Prolific surgeon and columnist Dr Yusuf Kodwavwalla Dawood died on 29 January, 2023 in the United Kingdom aged 94.
His son Jaan Yusuf broke the news of his demise on Saturday, saying “my dad slipped away from us in the early hours of this morning. May his soul rest in peace.”
For 38 years, Dr Yusuf K Dawood won himself a large loyal follower for his prolific Surgeon’s Diary column on Sunday Nation, and on Sunday, fans condoled with his family and friends after news of demise spread.
Dr Yusuf K Dawood is a renowned surgeon and author. Dr Yusuf Dawood Biography popularly known for his Surgeon’s Diary Articles and Books Read more about his biography, wife, children and more on Wikipedia.
The Surgeons Diary has been running as a full page column in the ‘Sunday Nation’ for over 33 years and still commands a wide readership. Upon his readers’ requests, Dawood wrote the first volume of the trilogy based on the Diary in 1985 under the title, Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow. Off My Chest appeared in 1988, then Behind the Mask in 1995. Now a quartet, The Last Word wraps up the series. This delightful glimpse into the lighter side of the medical field makes being a surgeon bearable, and introduces the reader to an unknown aspect of the profession–humor.
Dr Yusuf Dawood, a seasoned author and a celebrated surgeon, Dawood 86, has practised medicine for almost 60 years, and 52 of these have been spent in Kenyan hospitals offering selfless service.
And when he announced that he would retire his scalpel, it was met with gloom by patients whom he had taken care of, now running into generations. Known for his popular Surgeon’s Diary column that runs in a local daily and in its 35th year, Dawood carved out his niche as a one-organ surgeon choosing to specialise on the treatment and management of breast cancer.
Described by his peers as the ‘breast-guy’, the soft spoken surgeon with a diminutive frame has dedicated his time and energies in breast cancer treatment, management and research for the last 60 years.
So passionate and driven is he that on his last day at work, he crowned it all with a mastectomy on a woman who had advanced breast cancer. The surgeon who always teases that he has four wives – Marie (his lawful wife), surgery, writing and Rotary shares great insights into the world of breast cancer.
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“If age is not judged by years alone, but by the intensity of life-the life one has crowded into those years and not merely the years one has lived- then I can claim to have had a long and fascinating life,” writes Dr Kodwavwala, in his autobiography titled Nothing but the Truth-The Story of a Surgeon with Four Wives. The book is a fascinating story of his life’s journey as he pursues his passions- surgery, writing, Rotary and family, which he figuratively describes as his four wives.
A veteran surgeon, Dr Kodwavwala is perhaps widely known by his pen name, Yusuf K. Dawood, by which he writes the Surgeon’s Diary, a popular column that the Sunday Nation has published for thirty years now.
A Happy Childhood
Dr Kodwavwala hails from Bantwa, a tiny town in Saurashtra, western India, where he had quite an eventful childhood. His father, Dawood Kodwavwala, was born in a small village near Bantwa called
Kodwav, which explains the origin of the name Kodwavwala. Due to the difficulty in pronouncing and writing his surname, Dr Kodwavwala says he has often jokingly described it as a cross he has carried all
his life. When he came to Kenya in 1961 to work at the Aga Khan Hospital, the staff drastically reduced it
to Mr. K, a name that has stuck to date. His father was determined to ensure his children got
formal education. “We all ended up in the professions, my three elder brothers as lawyers and my younger brother and me as doctors. My only sister did not go as far because of early marriage necessitated by social constraints, but completed her schooling at a convent and spoke fluent English, to the utter amazement of community elders. This gave a sense of great pride and pleasure to my dad.”
Dream Almost Shattered
In1945, when he qualified in the equivalent of ‘A’ level examination, securing a place at his college
of choice-Grant Medical College (Bombay) proved impossible for Dr Kodwavwala. GMC, as it was
affectionately known, was a college of repute, but due to bureaucracy and cronyism, it was quite difficult to get a place by merit in those days. “When the list of successful candidates who gained admission to the Grant Medical College for the term commencing June 1946 was pasted on the college notice board, my name was missing. Up to the last moment, I was hoping against hope and now I was devastated,” he says. After several failed attempts at joining a medical school, Dr Kodwavwala opted for what he felt was the next best thing and in 1947, enrolled for a BSc (microbiology major) at St Xavier College, Bombay. He hoped this would afford him admission to a medical college afterwards. However, his disappointment was short-lived. It happened that his father had persistently appealed to the dean of
Miraj Medical School to give his son a place in the institution. Located 250 miles south of Bombay, Miraj
Christian Medical College was run by American missionaries. Being a Christian institution meant that
first priority was given to Christian applicants. About two weeks to the beginning of the term in October
1947, one student died. There was no time to look for another Christian student and Dr Kodwavwala
was admitted. He was thrilled. Dr Kodwavwala’s four-year stay at Miraj was mostly happy, but two of his saddest events in life happened while he was there. In September1948, his father was diagnosed with cancer of the oesophagus and succumbed three months later. Secondly, due to religious divisions, Pakistan broke away from India.
There was bloodshed, destruction of property and majority of Muslims in India fled to Pakistan.
Dr Kodwavwala’s family was among those that immigrated to Karachi. His home as he had known it
was no more and he felt his roots were lost. Suddenly, he became a foreigner in his own homeland.
Despite the setbacks, Dr Kodwavwala completed his studies successfully and obtained the Licentiate
of the College of Physicians and Surgeons (LCPS) diploma. The only obstacle was that the authorities
decided to phase out the LCPS and merge it with the Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery
(MBBS) degree, which was more widely recognized. They set up an 8-month upgrading course that LCPS
holders were required to take. Even though this was going to prolong his studies by another 8 months, Dr Kodwavwala was happy because his dream of going to Grant Medical College, which offered the MBBS, finally came true.
After obtaining his MBBS in 1953, Dr Kodwavwala worked as a house surgeon at the JJ Hospital
(Bombay) for a year. For his postgraduate, he went to the UK in 1955, where he attained his Fellowship of the Royal College of Surgeons (FRCS) in 1958, after successfully doing four surgical terms at Maidenhead, Blacknotley and Banbury Hospitals and Drewsbury General Infirmary. In the UK, he also met and married his wife, Marie before finally settling in Kenya. “I am a child of three continents and feel at home in all three.
I am an Asian by birth and upbringing, European by marriage and education and African by adoption and
choice,” he says.
Dr Kodwavwala longed to reunite with his family after attaining his Fellowship. In 1959, he moved to
Karachi with Marie with the hope of settling there, but that was not to be. After setting up private
practice in Karachi, Dr Kodwavwala experienced such severe ethical malpractices that after much soul
searching, he decided to go back to the UK. He had been in Karachi for only nine months. “I was young,
impressionable and very sensitive and when I saw such malpractices I felt I could not live with that for
the rest of my life,” he says. As he bid farewell to his family and friends, a fellow surgeon handed him an aerogramme from Nairobi, addressed to the dean of Dow Medical College in Karachi. The newly opened Aga Khan Hospital in Nairobi was looking for a qualified surgeon. Bearing in mind why he was leaving Karachi, Dr kodwavwala was at first skeptical about Nairobi, but nevertheless, he sent an enquiry to the Hospital’s administrator. Ten Months later, in October 1960, as he worked at the City General Hospital in Sheffield, UK, he received a reply from the Aga Khan Hospital inviting him to an interview in London. The interview went well, and was soon followed by a meeting with His Highness the Aga Khan. Dr Kodwavwala took up the offer and was due to fly to Nairobi the following year.
Dr Kodwavwala arrived in Nairobi in March 1961. To his pleasant surprise, Nairobi turned out to be a
beautiful city. “Its altitude and perennial rainfall kept it constantly green and cool. The city was clean and well planned. There were no potholes, muggings nor traffic jams. Crime rate was low and services ran smoothly.
The downside was the racial segregation policy, which was observed strictly. Hospitals in Nairobi and
other big towns exclusively catered for the whites. Black Africans had nowhere to go except to the free
government hospital- King George the sixth (later named KNH),” he says.
The Aga Khan Hospital on the other hand, was a modern hospital that was open to all races. “Into this
compartmentalized healthcare, the entry of a wellbuilt, well equipped and well staffed hospital with
its multiracial concept was a progressive move, but unfortunately, majority of indigenous Africans could not afford the charges at the time.”
Even so, Dr Kodwavwala found his work at the hospital both intriguing and challenging. He was determined to make his surgical unit a centre of excellence.
Opened in 1958, The Aga Khan Hospital was the late Shah Sultan Mohammed Aga Khan’s idea. He built a
hospital as a philanthropic gesture to his followers-the Ismailia community in East Africa. In its early days, the hospital was not busy and the bed occupancy was quite low. Eventually, Dr Kodwavwala’s dedicated service
provided the hospital with much needed revenue. His patients filled a substantial part of the hospital’s private beds and general surgical wards. Politically, the 1960s were exciting years for Kenya.
Racial discrimination was on its way out after Kenya gained independence in 1963. On the family front,
the Kodwavwalas’ family grew bigger after the birth of their two children, Jenny and Jan, in 1964 and
1967 respectively. In addition, in March 1964 he was appointed full time consultant surgeon, “professionally I was very happy doing what I like doing most-clean, unadulterated surgical work. Surgical practice in Kenya was of high caliber and ethical.” To his relief, the level of ethical malpractice in Kenya was very low. At the peak of Dr Kodwavwala’s surgical career, the Aga Khan appointed him Executive Director of the Aga Khan Hospital in 1975. The hospital had been making losses year after year and at the helm, his responsibility was to turn its fortunes around.
Dr Kodwavwala agreed to take the challenge head on, but on condition that The Aga Khan would allow him to continue practicing as a surgeon. “Surgery is my first love. I had devoted all my formative years to becoming a surgeon and it would be such a waste of my training and talents to relinquish what came to me so naturally.” After taking office in October 1975, he soon realized that being the Executive Director of a loss-making hospital was like walking a tight rope. The job was demanding and stressful. He put in a number of measures that thankfully, saw the hospital break even after his first year in office.
Eventually, the pressure of running a complex hospital while still practicing surgery became too much for Dr Kodwavwala. Writing helped him to cope with the stress. “Writing worked as a balm for my jangled nerves. It even helped to maintain my sanity!” says Dr Kodwavwala.
He launched his first book, No Strings Attached, a fictional novel in March 1979. He has written nine more books:
The Price of Living, Yesterday Today and Tomorrow, One Life too Many, Off my Chest, Water under the Bridge, Behind the Mask, Return to Paradise, Nothing but the Truth and Eye of the storm. The price of Living, Yesterday Today and Tomorrow and
Behind the Mask are compilations of his Surgeon’s Diary