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Biographical entry Jayasuriya, Bodyabaduge Piyatissa (1932 - 2014)

MB BS Peradeniya 1959; FRCS England 1969.

21 September 1932
Beruwala, Sri Lanka
8 July 2014
General practitioner and General surgeon


Piyatissa Jayasuriya (known as 'Tissa') was an acclaimed medical professional and surgeon in Sri Lanka and Australia, credited with countless surgeries and medical advice he performed and provided. He was born on 21 September 1932 in Beruwala, Sri Lanka, to Simon Perera Jayasuriya and Cicilin Dimingo, who were of Sinhalese origin.

His eagerness as a young boy to assist others inspired his wish to become a medical practitioner. From the age of six, Tissa attended Ananda College in Colombo. Due to the considerable distance between Colombo and Beruwala, as he approached his college years he resided in the nearby Gothama Vihara Temple in Borella, Colombo. This experience greatly influenced his views regarding religious values, which consisted of a large part of his life.

He excelled at his studies at school, but his talents were not restricted to academic achievements; he also shone at the visual arts, in which he took a particular interest. His leisure time was devoted to reading, occasionally fishing with friends in his neighbourhood, and drawing and painting his parents and four siblings. From a young age he was known as a compassionate and caring individual, never losing his temper and quick to lighten tense situations.

After graduating from Ananda College in 1950, Tissa attended the University of Peradeniya, Sri Lanka, where he enrolled in a MB BS degree, qualifying nine years later. In April 1959 he began as an intern, as a medical officer in the Colombo Group of Hospitals. After continuing on as an intern for another year, he then became a house officer in the district hospital of Wathupitiwala.

In 1962 he became a demonstrator in physiology in the medical faculty of the University of Ceylon and was promoted to grade II medical officer mid-year. He married Shirley Ranjani, the daughter of a businessman, on 24 December 1962. They later had three children: Anura, Nilmin and Rohan, all born in Colombo. Yet this seemingly joyful year took a dark turn when Tissa's mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. His yearning to cure her influenced his subsequent training, leading him to a post as a senior house officer in the obstetrics and gynaecology department at Colombo General Hospital the following year, in 1963. A year later, he moved to the general surgery ward, followed by the orthopaedic ward of the same hospital. Having taken an interest in surgery, Tissa moved to Kalubowila, where he worked as a resident surgeon from 1966 to 1967.

In pursuit of further studies and to specialise in surgery, he sat and passed the primary FRCS examination held in Colombo, before travelling to England in 1968 to study at the Royal College of Surgeons. During this time, he acted as a psychiatry registrar at Harperbury Hospital in London in 1968, and spent the subsequent year as a house officer in the gynaecology department at the Middlesex Hospital in London. In the same year, 1969, he sat the final exam to attain the FRCS and shortly afterwards returned to Sri Lanka to a new position at Colombo General Hospital. In 1970 he operated on his mother in an attempt to cure her cancer, extending her life for approximately another two years.

After a year of working in Colombo, he moved to the Base Hospital in Negombo, where he stayed for two years, and was then in Matale from 1973 to 1976, when he resigned as a surgeon. A member of parliament, Major General A R Udugama, praised Tissa for serving the residents of his constituency and remarked that he was a 'rare type of gentleman' who was appreciated by the general public for having a 'keen conscience to duty'.

Driven by hopes of spreading his practice overseas, Tissa migrated to Australia with his wife and three sons in 1976, where they spent their first year in the town of Lightening Ridge, Walgatt Shire, in the north west of New South Wales, where Tissa worked as a general practitioner. He also continued to make regular visits to Sri Lanka to see his extended family.

He later moved and settled in Peak Hill, New South Wales. During his residence in Peak Hill, his love for gardening was established. He actively engaged with the wider community, serving as the sole medical practitioner in his own practice and in the district hospital for 25 years. In the early years, Tissa also served as a consultant surgeon in the nearby town of Parkes.

In 2002, he and his wife moved to Canberra in the Australian Capital Territory. He soon commenced work at Winnunga Nimmityjah Aboriginal Health Service Centre in Narrabundah, being one of the first two doctors to serve Canberra's indigenous community. Shortly after being diagnosed with bladder cancer in 2006, he underwent treatment and was cleared a year later. He resumed work at Winnunga for a further six years, before being diagnosed with lung cancer. At the age of 80, he underwent surgery and recovered sufficiently to resume work for a short time. He finally retired in March 2014, after his condition rapidly worsened. Tissa was undeterred by this; his thorough understanding of human life and his extensive practice of meditation helped him to calmly approach his death, which occurred peacefully at home on 8 July 2014 surrounded by family. He was 81.

Filled with an extraordinary amount of talent and goodwill, Tissa carried out numerous surgeries and was a compassionate and sympathetic man who never forgot his identity and gave without ever expecting acknowledgement or praise in return. His generosity was reflected in his decisions to extensively support his family as well as Canberra's indigenous population, who knew Tissa as a humble, unforgettable man who was an icon of their community.

Nisali Jayasinghe

Sources used to compile this entry: [Personal knowledge and information from Shirley Jayasuriya, Rohan Jayasuriya, Piyaseeli Leelarathna].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England