“Stretch out your hand to touch and heal them…” —The Leprosy Mission Prayer
1964 was a year I will never forget – working with Dr Paul Brand in his last teaching session before he left India. I had been awarded a World Heath Organisation (WHO) fellowship to the Schieffelin Leprosy Research and Training Centre at Karigiri, a few miles from Vellore. Paul was teaching at the Christian Medical College Hospital there.
“He has filled him with the Spirit of God, in wisdom, in understanding and in knowledge and in all craftsmanship;”
I had already met Paul in 1959 when he spoke at the only Christian Medical Fellowship conference I attended in my three years in the UK. Not only was I attracted to him by his message, but my wife and I met him walking along the beach, and had a memorable conversation. So when I was offered that WHO fellowship I was primed, and accepted it immediately. It proved to be the most formative experience of my surgical career, in which a master craftsman taught me how to prevent and manage deformity in leprosy.
Paul was so humble that it was easy to forget we were being taught by one of the most outstanding surgical thinkers of the 20th century.
He took a patient’s hands in his as if they were family at a time when some specialists elsewhere donned gloves before touching a leprosy patient. His Thursday morning teaching sessions drew hand and plastic surgeons from all over the world.
He approached each patient as if there could be something new to find, an attitude that had enabled him to see things that nobody else had, and transform our understanding of the causes of deformity, of ulceration in particular.
He also conducted the Tuesday night Bible study for Karigiri staff; Mark’s gospel in my time there.
In 1965, I moved to Madang, Papua New Guinea (PNG) for five years. Our ward and theatre nurse was Valerie, an English lady who had heard Paul speak in Canada. She was so attracted by his gracious Christian personality and message that she had turned up at Karigiri in early 1964, out of the blue, hoping to work with him.
I recommended her to Dick McEwen (head of The Leprosy Mission Australia at the time), who paid her fare to PNG, where the Health Department employed her.Our physiotherapist, Julie, was recruited by TLM New Zealand. After gaining experience along with Paul and I in India she made an outstanding contribution in PNG where she taught many others, including Pat Hunn before she went to South Korea. Julie married a NZ surgeon who worked in Rabaul for years, then in Alice Springs before they made many teaching trips together, to East Timor and again to PNG.
We operated in Madang and in several leprosy hospitals around the country. Reconstructive surgery and physiotherapy enabled us to give new hope to deformed leprosy patients.
In 1993, I saw Paul again at the International Leprosy Congress in Orlando, Florida. At the early morning prayer meetings he sat on the floor along with many other delegates.
Almost from the beginning, the World Health Organisation thought too much attention was being paid to, and money spent on, reconstructive surgery in leprosy, and said so at the conference. They boldly predicted the elimination of leprosy as a public health problem within 10 years – that is, its incidence would drop to less than 1:10,000 in any population. Paul Brand was a keynote speaker, and firmly reminded the over-confident bureaucrats that even if this were to be achieved, thousands of crippled patients would remain, and their deformities would need specialised care for many years. This was another example of the way he never lost sight of patients as individuals. This was the last time I saw him.
Dr Brand had the engaging habit of calling his fellow workers brother (or sister) whether or not he remembered their names, which he usually did. This was a telling expression of how his being a close follower of Jesus affected every aspect of his life. Paul Brand was an outstanding example of mature spiritual equipoise.
Like so many others, I thank God that I had the opportunity to have been amongst his students.
Dr Ken Clezy, AM, OBE, spent much of his long professional career in the developing world, specialising in the reconstructive surgery of leprosy. Ken is the only general surgeon elected an honorary member of the Neurosurgical Society of Australasia (NSA) and has also received the RACS International Medal for lasting and significant contributions to surgery in the developing world. His memoir “Now in Remission” and two novels are available through wakefieldpress.com.au
Dr Paul Brand, CBE (17 July 1914 – 8 July 2003) was born to missionary parents (Jesse and Evelyn “Granny” Brand) and grew up in Tamil Nadu, India. He was a pioneer in developing tendon transfer techniques for use in the hands of those with leprosy. He was the first physician to appreciate that leprosy did not cause the rotting away of tissues, but that it was the loss of the sensation of pain which made sufferers susceptible to injury. Brand contributed extensively to the fields of hand surgery and hand therapy through his publications and lectures, and wrote popular autobiographical books about his childhood, his parents’ missionary work, and his philosophy about the valuable properties of pain.