Dr Aruna Wijewardana, A Lifesaver to Burn Victims –
By Sharmila Jayasinghe Niriella
It was such a shock to receive a phone call from a close friend bearing devastating news of a work place accident in which her father had received severe and life threatening burns to his body. My friend as expected, was crying hysterically worried about the safety of her father which made me drop everything and rush to her side. Her father, as I got to know then, had sustained severe full thickness burns to most of his body when a mixture of paint and thinner ignited while he was working at a building site. After a stressful few hours sitting in the waiting room of the burns unit of the Royal North Shore Hospital, my friend was prompted to speak to the doctor in charge. The doctor had instantly put her mind at ease. Her stress and fears were soon washed away with the reassuring words of the staff. “The doctor looking after your father is a miracle worker and the best person to take care of your father,” they had said with confidence.
Throughout the lengthy period of recovery where my friend’s father spent two months in and out of the intensive care unit and subsequently another six months undergoing reconstructive surgery done for his burns, we never lost hope. The faith the staff had in the doctor who looked after our patient was more than enough for us to hold on to hope. We actually understood why everyone in the burns unit was so confident about the work the doctor did when we ourselves saw the amazing results in my friend’s father as he gradually recovered from the horrific injuries caused by fire.
With constant references made about the doctor and the many lives he had been instrumental in saving, my friend couldn’t help but admiringly refer to him as the “Lifesaver”. We all had faith and never lost hope that the “Lifesaver” was going to make things right and he did: when our patient, a burns victim with severe burns to 80% of his body walked out of the hospital in a completely recovered state we could hardly believe our eyes. The Lifesaver had truly made the patient as good as new! Imagine how grateful and proud I felt when I finally met the doctor dubbed the “Lifesaver” in person and realized he was a fellow Sri Lankan.
When the “Lifesaver”, Dr Aruna Wijewardana, introduced himself, my journalistic instinct recognized a good human interest story and I requested for a formal interview with the good doctor. It was indeed fascinating to hear the many stories of care, compassion and survival that Aruna so willingly shared while always adhering to the patient’s privacy. The most surprising bit of information for me was that fact that the gentle, soft spoken soul sitting in front of me, who had performed over four thousand reconstructive surgeries on severely burnt patients during the last thirteen years in Australia , still lived and worked here on a temporary visa of this country which he so willingly serves and wishes to call home one day.
Aruna, had been attached to the burns and reconstructive unit of the National Hospital in Colombo, the burns unit in Lady Ridgeway Children’s hospital in Colombo and also had held several other important positions in Sri Lanka, before assuming duties as a fellow at the Severe Burns unit at the Royal North Shore hospital in 2007. Ever since then he had been serving the community silently with grace, compassion, determination and skill. He clearly was not expecting anything in return for the work he did, which in some cases was truly miraculous. As the day ended and I bid the doctor goodbye I wished him all the best for his future with a hope that he would be able officially call Australia home soon.
Once in a while you meet someone, quite randomly, who inspires you with his or her immense skills and often unrecognized and unappreciated services rendered to society that you feel the need to share their existence with everyone. Dr Aruna Wijewardana truly is one with immense skills and one who needs to be recognized for his services. All those who have met him never forget him and most of those who have received his care owe their lives to him.