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Doctor Palanivelu; GEM of a Surgeon

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By Suresh Unnithan

Meet Dr Palanivelu an unassuming, extraordinary, gifted Indian surgeon. His story of upswing from abject poverty to the top of the medical world is captivating. His growth from a poor peasants’ schoolboy struggling for school fee to one of the most celebrated surgeons of the era is simply implausible. Intense craving for knowledge and diligence transformed the once underprivileged Palanivelu to the legendary surgeon, Dr. C. Palanivelu, MS, DNB, MCh, FACS, FRCS, DSc, PhD. Indeed a scintillating saga of exceptional achievements.

Dr Palanivelu receiving Dr. B.C.Roy National Award from President of India Pranab Mukherjee in 2016

For Dr Palanivelu medicine was a passion, not just a career. “Medicine may be a lucrative profession for many, but for me it’s a god given opportunity to serve those struggling for life.”  Born to poor peasant parents in a remote village near Namakkal, Tamil Nadu, Palanivelu had to do odd jobs for survival. And today he is one among the most celebrated Laparoscopic surgeon, not just within the country, but across the Globe.

More than a surgeon, Dr Palanivelu is an avid researcher, a passionate professor, and above all a brilliant innovator who has hundreds of innovations to his credit. He is acclaimed as the innovator of many newer laparoscopic surgical techniques for critical illnesses including cancer. Dr Palanivelu is instrumental in developing laparoscopic surgery as a speciality, affordable to all. For his exclusive innovations in surgical procedures Dr Palanivelu was conferred the most prestigious Dr. B.C.Roy National Award in 2006 (for Development of Speciality -“Laparoscopic Surgery).

A few of his innovations in medicine are:

·        Palanivelu’s technique for Thoracic Laparoscopic Esophagectomy followed globally as ‘The Standard Technique’

·        Laparoscopic resection for pancreatic cancer.

·        Palanivelu’s Hydatid Trocar System for Hydatid Cyst Liver Excision.

·        SAGES(US) Award Winner – for Single Incision Colorectal Cancer Resection.

·        Laparoscopic Mesh Repair for Incisional Hernia with primary closure of defect

·        SAGES Award and First Prize Winner – Duodeno Jejunal Bypass operation for uncontrolled Diabetes Mellitus

  • He invented a new technique for cancer esophagus in esophagectomy. This procedure is named after him and called “Palanivelu’s technique of esophagectomy”.
  • Laparoscopic Whipple operation for cancer Pancreas first to perform and completed for the first time in the world.
  • Choledochalcyst laparoscopic excision & Hepatojejunostomy
  • Single incision colorectal cancer resection ( SAGES award winning operation)
  • Gastrectomy for cancer stomach (Key note address Japanese society 2006)

Dr Palainivelu feels that research helps you become a better physician because you are able to more critically evaluate new evidence and provide the best patient care and he has proved this in his profession by bringing innovations in surgical procedures.

Dr Palanivelu has brought many laurels to the nation. He was the first Indian physician honoured by European Association of Endoscopic Surgeons for Significant contribution to the development of Laparoscopic Surgery during World Congress of Endoscopic Surgery at Paris in June 2014.

In 1998 Dr Palanivelu was conferred with ELSA Oral Presentation Award in Rome  for his “Outstanding Scientific Contribution” (Best Paper).  

“Best Technique Award”, World Congress of Oesophagus, ISDE, Japan, 2010, Honorary Fellowship Award, “Honorio Causa” of University of San Americas, Peru in 2012,  “Award of Fellowship Ad-Hominum”, Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh, UK in 2004 are some of the international honours he brought for the country.

Dr Palanivelu was felicitated  many times both in India and abroad for his extraordinary inputs to the field of medicine. He was awarded “LifeTime Achievement” for his contribution in the field of cancer. He also is the recipient of the highest honour of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh, United Kingdom in appreciation of his scientific contribution in the field of minimal access surgery at global level.

He is the only two time winner of the Dr BC Roy National Award. First time  in 2006,  under the category of development of specialty medicine namely laparoscopic surgery.and under Eminent Medical Person category in 2016.

Dr Palanivelu is the first Indian to win International Olympic Silver Medal for surgery which was held at Phoenix US In 2009. Sages and JSES jointly organised international Olympic surgery in MAS which was held at Phoenix Texas first ever in history of surgery.

The other noted awards to his credit are; Best Technique Award International Society for Diseases of Esophagus : During 10th world congress of ISDE International Society for Diseases of Esophagus, Kagoshima Japan 2010.

He is also the Recipient of Honorary Fellowship of medicine “Honorary Causa” 2014 by the San American university, Lima, PERU, the oldest university in the world, formed in the year 1551. A Gold Medal ‘ from Kazakhstan National Association of Medicine.

Dr Palanivelu believes that medicine is a noble, service oriented profession and “doctors should work with humanity.” According to “it is an honour and privilege to get to serve the public as a physician,” and he “always remember the privilege it is to be a physician”

By nature and actions Dr Palanivelu is a true human. To give flawless healthcare at affordable cost he has established a speciality healthcare facility GEM in Coimbatore, not much far from his home town Namakkal.  In a personal meeting with this correspondent Dr. Palanivelu gave a brief disruption on the concept of GEM Hospitals & Research Centre. GEM Hospital was initially started as Coimbatore Institute of Gastrointestinal Endo-Surgery (CIGES) in the year 1991 by Dr Palanivelu.

 “Being a specialist in Gastroenterology, let me explain to you, the root of the majority our illness is related to the digestive system and its disorders. In GEM hospitals we provide comprehensive gastro care, In fact GEM is Asia’s first exclusive gastroenterology and advanced laparoscopic surgery centre.”  Dr Palanivelu was the first to introduce Laparoscopic surgery in south India. He has applied Laparoscopic technique to all types of surgery including cancer surgery. Explaining the importance and urgency of Laparoscopic surgery  in the Indian context he said “ more than three fourth of  Indian population are farmers and labourers. Faster recovery with minimal morbidity is vital to our people. They need speedy recovery. Prolonged hospitalisation can ruin their life.”

Dr Palanivelu receiving Dr. B.C.Roy National Award from President Prathibha Patil in 2006

As part of social commitment GEM conducts periodic Hepatitis-B awareness and free vaccination programmes every year one month in August. Laparoscopic surgeries are done free of cost or at reduced rate for needy, depending on the financial condition of the patient, Dr Palanivelu added. GEM conducts medical camps in the rural segments depending on the urgency of situations. “I have come from the deprived segment of the society and I cannot overlook the kind of hardships my parents and I went through, and the extent of support and encouragement I got from my society. Of course, I am indebted to society for my achievements. Through GEM I am trying to repay whatever little I can,” said Dr Palanivelu

Dr Palanivelu believes that physicians should be personable, great listeners, and empathetic to the concerns of the patients and that they should not be pompous or egotistical. As former president of India APJ Abdul Kalam said “doctors need to have a kind heart along with the biological heart.”

According to Dr. Varghese C.J, a renowned Laparoscopic Surgeon from Thrissur, Kerala,  “Observation, Reason, Human Understanding, Courage make a class medical doctor and Dr Palanivelu has all these qualities. He is GEM of a Surgeon.”

Yes, Dr Palanivelu is decorated with many national and international awards for his exceptional and inimitable contribution to medical science and society. He has been a visiting professor for more than a dozen foreign universities, both from the west and East. He has participated in over 200 international medical conferences across the world. He is a two time recipient of the most coveted  Dr. B.C.Roy National Award. But it is surprising, the Nation is yet to honour this medical genius with any Padma Puraskar, which he rightly deserves.


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