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A Force of Nature | The Daily Star

by Khan Helal

My cousin Dr. Luna Vishwanath (née Quader) passed away on June 6th. With her went a big part of my childhood. This is her story.

Born into an illuminated family (her father was founder principal of Central Law College; her maternal grandmother was the first Muslim woman politician of Bangladesh) Luna studied medicine at Dhaka Medical College before going to the United Kingdom for further studies.

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She did her post graduate work in Scotland and became the first female Bangladeshi surgeon to pass all the examinations required to become a Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons. Specializing in breast cancer surgery she became a sought after consultant surgeon in the UK. Eventually she and her husband, orthopaedic surgeon Dr. Mayasandra Vishwanath (Vish), chose to continue their work at Birmingham City Hospital.

At Birmingham Luna led her team to pioneer day case surgery for breast cancer patients. This enabled the patient to go home on the same day as the surgery. It ensured that patients received the best and most efficient care. The idea was so successful that it was adopted in hospitals across the UK. It also saved the National Health Service 22 million pounds annually.

In 2009 Luna was diagnosed with pulmonary hypertension, a rare and deadly disease. Fighting it, she kept seeing patients and performed surgeries with the aid of oxygen. Following her ill-health retirement, she set up office at home and became her own best physician, meticulously tracking symptoms and test results and carefully choosing evidence based medicines and procedures. Her will-power and discipline enabled her to live much longer than the disease’s life expectancy.

Through her darkest days she never stopped being anchor and guide for her family and her siblings. Illness could not rob her of her generosity. She always responded to calls for help from anyone in her wide circle of relatives and friend.

Soon after her diagnosis, Luna and Vish made a list of countries to visit. In a few years they visited numerous countries, criss-crossing the globe from north to south and east to west. Travelling was not easy as she had to carry her oxygen supply. Nonetheless they made wonderful memories and shared them through photographs spanning Angkor Wat, Iguazu Falls, Mount Fuji, Kruger safari, Icelandic geyser, Amazonian forest and many other attractions.

Among my cousins, Luna was closest in age. When I was growing up in Sylhet she was the big-city connection in Dhaka. She kept me updated on the happening things: TV shows such as The Fugitive and Dangerman, Apollo 11 astronauts visiting Dhaka, bell-bottom pants and detective books. In my imagination she was glamorous and stylish but face to face she always turned out to be smiling, very approachable and unflinchingly direct.

These qualities held her in good stead later when, through her skills, talent and charisma, she impressed even the toughest old school British surgeons and broke into their male-dominated world.

My visits with Luna during her illness were filled with joyful reminiscing. Her cheerful demeanour and calm acceptance of her disease amazed me. During pauses in conversation I found myself wondering how the bubbly girl I once knew had miraculously transformed into this graceful yet formidable force of nature.

Luna is survived by her husband, daughter, mother, three siblings and countless admirers and grateful souls.

(I acknowledge the help of Dr. Veena Vishwanath, Luna’s daughter, in writing this article.)


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