Tribute to Dato’ (Dr) Nadason Arumugasamy
Pioneer Neurosurgeon in Malaysia
Dato’ (Dr) Nadason Arumugasamy, who has passed away on 19th December 2003 at the age of 69, was the most senior and influential Neurosurgeon in Malaysia. He was the first Malaysian Neurosurgeon and throughout his career he has been tireless in promoting and developing Neurosurgery in his home country.
Dato’ (Dr) N. Arumugasamy was born on 15th January 1934, in Taiping, Perak, Malaysia. He was educated in King Edward VII School in Taiping and subsequently in St Michael’s Institution, Ipoh. He graduated with the Degree of MBBS in 1960 from King Edward VII College of Medicine, University of Malaya in Singapore. He joined the Malaysian Government Service as a houseman (intern) in Ipoh General Hospital in 1960. In 1962, he was transferred to Kuala Lumpur General Hospital as a medical officer in the Casualty and Male Outpatient Department and also in Tanglin Hospital. He started his career in Neurosurgery in 1963 as the first Medical officer in Neurosurgery under Dr. Roy Selby, the American Neurosurgeon who started neurosurgical service in Malaysia in the same year under the United States of America CARE /MEDICO Program.
Dato’ Aru (as he was usually referred to) was the first Malaysian Neurosurgeon to be trained in United State of America. He was awarded a government scholarship in 1964 and embarked on a one year Fellowship Program in Neurophysiology in the University of Wisconsin, Madison, Wisconsin. In 1965, he spent another year as a Fellow in Neuropathology in Albert Einstein College of Medicine, New York. He was Resident in Neurosurgery in Northwestern University Medical School, Chicago from 1966-1968. In 1968, he obtained the Degree of Doctor in Medicine (MD) from University of Malaya in Singapore by thesis and examination. In 1969, he became the first Malaysian neurosurgeon to be certified by the American Board of Neurological Surgery.
After completion of neurosurgery training in U.S.A., Dato’ Aru resisted attractive offers to work in Chicago and returned to Malaysia in December 1969. In June 1970, he assumed the post of Head of Department of Neurosurgery, Kuala Lumpur General Hospital. Being the only Neurosurgeon, he was inundated with loads of clinical work related to patient care, service commitment, administrative work, teaching & training responsibilities and research. Being a pioneer in this relative new speciality of Neurosurgery at that time, Dato’ Aru had to do and read his own X-rays and cerebral angiograms (by direct puncture of the carotid / brachial artery). He had to run his own neuropathology laboratory, examined and reported on all his histological specimens. He also started the first Electro-Encephalogram (EEG) laboratory in the country in 1973. He was responsible for the EEG examination and their reporting until the Department of Neurology was fully established in 1976. In essence, Dato’ Aru was a Neurosurgeon, Neurologist, Neuroradiologist, Neurophysiologist and Neuropathologist all moulded into one. Indeed, he was a complete Neurosurgeon.
One of the lasting memorials that can be attributed to Dato’ Aru was the building of the Tunku Abdul Rahman Institute of Neurosciences. The foundation stone of the building was laid by none other than our beloved first Prime Minister of Malaysia, Tunku Abdul Rahman, on 20th April 1970. The Tunku Abdul Rahman Institute was officially opened by the then Minister of Health. YB Tan Sri Dr. Lee Siok Yew in March 1975. To commemorate the occasion, a Forum on Neurological Sciences in Developing Countries was held. Distinguished guests were invited which included Dr. Paul C. Bucy of Chicago; A.Baker of Minnesota; G. Baumogartner and Andre Haynal of Switzerland; Bedbrock, Prof. Cawte and John Game of Australia; Tsubaki and H. Wadia of Japan, B. Ramamurthi of India and of course Dr. R. Selby of U.S.A. The Tunku Abdul Rahman Institute of Neuroscience embodies the three allied and interdependent discipline of Neurosurgery, Neurology and Psychiatry. The Institute also housed supporting services in the way of Neuroradiology, Neuropathology, Electroencephalography, Neuroaudiology, Operating Room and Intensive Care Units plus Psychiatric facilities (e.g. Electro-Convulsive Therapy). Through his sheer tenacity and single-minded effort, he set up the Neurosurgical Foundation Malaysia and managed to raise 1.8 million dollars in the early years from the public, grateful patients and various government agencies. The fund from the Neurosurgical Foundation Malaysia has been utilized to equip the Tunku Abdul Rahman Institute and to develop Neurosciences in this country. Dato’ Aru was the founding Director and Honorary Secretary General and the most active and influential member of the Neurosurgical Foundation of Malaysia until his very last days in life.
What really amazed many of us is that despite all the clinical and service commitments, Dato’ Aru still managed to find time for research, publications, society work and community service. Dato’ Aru had more than sixty-one papers published or presented at Scientific Meetings since 1958. The papers reflected the wide interests and high quality of works by Dato’ Aru, ranging from the spine to the brain; encroaching on infection, trauma, cerebral vascular disease, degenerative disease to tumours, etc. His publications on Cryptococcal infection/Cryptococcoma augmented by the first clinical trials in 1972 with Flucytosine has resulted in his treatment protocol being generally adopted in Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong and Indonesia. He also described and classified brain tumours not prevalent in other countries, e.g. cerebellar sarcomas and Hemangiosarcoma. Dato’ Aru has always been a forceful and powerful figure – he had an absolute conviction of what is right and wrong.
Dato’ Aru ‘s invaluable contribution to Neurosurgery has gained international recognition. He was made Fellow of the International College of Surgeon, Division of Neurosurgery (FICS) in 1969 and Fellow of the American College of Surgeon (FACS) in 1971. He was awarded Honorary Fellowship of the Royal Australian College of Surgeon (FRACS) in 1979. In 1995 he became the prestigious fellow of the Academy Science of Malaysia (FACS). He was the Director of the Tunku Abdul Rahman Institute of Neuroscience and Head of Department of Neurosurgery, General Hospital, Kuala Lumpur from 1969 until his optional retirement in 1986. He was a member of countless associations and societies, both local and overseas. He was a staunch life-member of the Malaysian Medical Associations (MMA), active member of the American Association of Neurological Surgeon, Academy of Medicine Malaysia, College of Surgeons Malaysia, Malaysian Society of Neurosciences, just to name a few. He was Vice-President of the Asian –Australasian Society of Neurosurgeons from 1971-1976. He was the founding member and Executive Council member of the ASEAN Neurosurgical Society. He sat in Neurotraumalogy Committee of the World Federation of Neurosurgical Societies since 1990. The Neurosurgical Association Malaysia (NAM) is very much honoured to have Dato’ Aru as our first President from 2001-2003. His leadership and advice was most vital during the early formative years of NAM. Dato’ Aru’s enthusiasm and zest knew no bounds, he was also active in many social activities and community services. He was President of Ceylon Tamils’ Kalavirthy Sangam from 1982 and President of the Malaysian Ceylonese Congress from 1988-1997. His opinions and contributions were very much sought after by the nation. He was member of the National Economic Consultative Council (NECC) from 1989-1990, National Education Council (MPAP) and United Nations Malaysia Association. He was a member of the Eisenhower Fellowship Tour China in 1995.
For all his contributions, Dato’ Aru was conferred the royal award of Darjah Sultan Ismail Johor (DSIJ) in 1977 which carries the title Dato’. He was also conferred another royal award of Johan Setia Mahkota (JSM) in 1980.
Dato’ Aru was a keen sportsman. During his undergraduate days, he played cricket for Singapore state in 1958. He captained the University Cricket Team to Hong Kong 1958-1959. In the later part of his life, Golf became his love, second only to Neurosurgery. He was one of the top golfers in the Malaysia Government Service and had played against Singapore and Thailand.
After his optional retirement from government service, he joined the Private Health Sector and remained active in clinical practice. He was Visiting Consultant to several established private hospitals in Kuala Lumpur and resident Consultant Neurosurgeon of Gleneagles Intan Medical Centre, Kuala Lumpur.
Dato’ Aru was the first local Neurosurgeon to practise in this country in December 1969. Today, thirty-four years later, there are a total of thirty-four Malaysian Neurosurgeons currently practising in this country. All but a small handful of these neurosurgeons, at some stage of their careers, had received neurosurgical training at the Tunku Abdul Rahman Institute of Neurosciences. The more senior ones had the unforgettable and privileged experience of being personally tutored by Dato’ Aru himself. Dato’ Aru has blazed the trail for Neurosurgery in the country and he has left a legacy we Malaysians are forever thankful.
Dr. Fadzli Cheah Abdullah
Neurosurgical Association Malaysia