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Biographical entry Colabawalla, Burjori Nusserwanji (1922 - 2002)

BSc Bombay 1942; MB BS 1949; FRCS 1954.

18 August 1922
23 September 2002


Burjor Nusserwanji Colabawalla was head of the department of urology at St George's Hospital, Bombay, from 1959 to 1976. He was born on 18 August 1922 in Karachi, the son of Nusserwanji Burjorji Colabawalla and Khorshed Colabawalla (née Panthaky). He studied at St Patrick's High School in Karachi and, on the family's migration to Bombay, at St Xavier's College. After obtaining his BSc from the University of Bombay, he entered Grant Medical College in 1943. He retained a life-long loyalty to this institution, doing all he could for anyone from it.

After his graduation in medicine, he travelled to London and worked under the guidance of Ian Aird at the Postgraduate Medical School, Hammersmith Hospital. He gained his fellowship of the Royal College of Surgeons in 1954.

Whilst in London, he also worked with Norman Tanner and Henry Vernon at St James' Hospital. The latter introduced him to the budding specialty of urology. On Vernon's recommendation, Colabawalla worked as a registrar with Harold Hamilton-Stewart at the Bradford Royal Infirmary and completed the three-year course in urology there. He returned to India in 1957, preferring this to the offer of a consultant's post in England.

In a city used to general surgeons who dabbled in specialist operations, Colabawalla restricted his practice in Bombay to urology from the start, setting a precedent others were to follow later. He set high ethical standards. As a consequence, his private practice grew slowly, initial referrals being few and far between.

Vijay Dave, a senior neurosurgeon and a friend, recounts an illustrative anecdote. One evening, as he entered the compound housing Colabawalla's consulting rooms, he saw a portly, middle-aged man running away, huffing and puffing as though in danger of losing his life. Chasing him was Colabawalla. As the former escaped on to the street, Colabawalla ground to a halt. Realising that an explanation was due to Dave, he muttered: 'The … (expletive deleted) general practitioner had the temerity to ask me for a commission for a patient he had referred to me!'

He was appointed as a consultant urologist at St George's Hospital, affiliated to Grant Medical College, and developed the first teaching department in urology in the state. It soon attracted postgraduates who later earned renown as urologists in different parts of India.

He joined hands with Pheroze B Billimoria, the pre-eminent radiologist in the city, who had the only machine in Bombay with a serial changer and facilities for cine-angiography. Together, they carried out the first studies on renal arteries in systemic arterial hypertension in Bombay.

On his retirement from St George's Hospital, he heeded the call of his teacher at Grant Medical College, Shantilal J Mehta, to start the department of urology at the newly founded Jaslok Hospital and Research Centre. Jointly with the nephrology department, headed by M K Mani, Colabawalla initiated the programme for renal transplantation at this hospital. Anticipating the needs of poor patients, he also set up the National Kidney Foundation in 1976, which, among other things, helped meet expenses for drugs to prevent graft rejection.

He played a vital role in the drafting and passage of the Government of India's Transplantation of Human Organs Act in 1994.

He was the founder member of the Urological Society of India. He served as its honorary secretary and honorary treasurer (from 1961 to 1972) and was elected as its president from 1973 to 1974, following such pioneers as G M Phadke, Shantilal J Mehta and H S Bhat. He was the first Indian to become a full member of the British Association of Urological Surgeons. He was a member of the editorial board of the British Journal of Urology. He helped the University of Madras formulate its training programme in urology and served the Government of India as an adviser.

True to his principles, he waged war against illegal and unethical practices in renal transplantation in India.

The suffering of his mother from terminal renal disease had saddened him. He pondered humane ways for mitigating the misery of such patients. In the latter part of his life he was influenced by Minoo Masani. Masani, Member of Parliament, had set up the Society for the Right to Die with Dignity in 1981. Colabawalla became an active participant in the movement. On Masani's death, Colabawalla was elected president of the Society. He worked hard to spread awareness of advance directives and living wills in India. He prepared a draft bill on living wills, painstakingly drawing up clauses to define and qualify its intent. He built into the bill safeguards for lay individuals and those who would help them ensure that their desires were honoured. It is a sad commentary that, over the subsequent two decades, no progress has been made by the Government to pass the bill.

His colleagues recall his fondness for smoking a pipe, good food, wines, the creations of P G Wodehouse, the philosophy of Bertrand Russell, cricket and Western classical music.

Blood transfusions given to him as part of treatment for severe injuries suffered in a traffic accident led to Hepatitis C. Cirrhosis followed and, in its trail, a series of complications necessitating admissions to hospitals in India and in England. The death of his beloved wife, Mehroo, broke his heart and his will to live. He died on 23 September 2002, aged 80. In keeping with their philosophy, husband and wife were cremated without any religious formalities. He was survived by his daughter and son, Khorshed and Kershaw, and three grandchildren.

Sunil Pandya

Sources used to compile this entry: [Indian Journal of Urology 2008 24 279-280; The National Medical Journal of India 2003 16 37].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England