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Saturday, January 27, 2018

Sri Lankan cardiologist honoured in Australia

From today's The Island newspaper


Dr Kumar Gunawardane (right) and Mrs. Gunawardane after the award.

A Sri Lanka-born cardiologist, Dr Kumar Gunawardane, has been bestowed the most prestigious award - CONSULTANT EMERITUS by The TOWNSVILLE HOSPITAL AND HEALTH SERVICE BOARD.

The presentation was made by the Minister for Health, Queensland, Dr. Steven Miles at a glittering staff excellence award ceremony. This was attended by many local dignitaries including the state and federal parliamentarians and the Mayor of Townsville Cr Jenny Hill.

Dr Steven Miles also presented a floral bouquet to Mrs Shirani Gunawardane honouring her selfless contribution to her husband’s career.

Dr Gunawardane’s initial cardiology training was with Dr Ivor Obeysekare and Dr N. Walloopillai at the General Hospital, Colombo. Subsequently, he worked as Registrar in the Newcastle-Upon-Tyne Regional Cardiac Service UK and the Prince Charles Hospital in Brisbane, the leading cardiothoracic institution in Queensland.

He assumed duties as Director of Medicine at the Townsville General Hospital in 1982. This is the premier public tertiary care facility in North Queensland and also the main teaching hospital for the James Cook University Medical School which is on site. He is an Adjunct Associate Professor of the JCU.

The citation was by Dr Ryan Schrale a young Interventional Cardiologist colleague.

Dr Gunawardane had a highly distinguished 33-year service to the Townsville Hospital and Health Service as a Consultant Physcian and Cardiologist. He demonstrated the highest levels of leadership and professionalism throughout his medical career including an 11-year tenure as Director of the Department of Medicine (1982-1993) and also four years as the Director of Cardiology (2002 -2006). He was also the Chair of Cardiac Services for part of this time. For many years he was a member of the Statewide Cardiac Advisory Committee.

Dr Gunawardane’s career has spanned decades of major advancement in the understanding of and treatment of cardiac disease; throughout this time he spearheaded introduction of modern cardiology at the Hospital. He staffed the Coronary Care Unit single-handedly for 12 years - probably a unique record for Australia. He established local treatment protocols in conformity with national and international guidelines.

He also single-handedly established Echocardiography in North Queensland. For the first eight years, he performed and interpreted all echocardiograms personally without the assistance of sonographers or cardiac scientists. Dr Gunawardane, through a commitment to continuing professional development and improvement of services, undertook a sabbatical training year in USA. (1988/89).

He worked with another distinguished Sri Lankan Cardiologist, Professor P. A. N. Chandraratne, who was the Deputy Chief of Cardiology at the University of Southern California Medical School in Los Angeles. This allowed Dr Gunawardane to establish advanced echocardiography techniques to North Queensland including trans-oesophageal and stress echocardiography.

Dr Gunawardane demonstrated outstanding leadership during the establishment of the Cardiac Unit. The establishment of the unit faced stiff competition from competing centres Cairns Base Hospital and a proposal from the Princess Alexandra Hospital Brisbane. He made a compelling and effective application to the selection committee headed by Dr Graeme Sloman, Director of Cardiology at the Royal Melbourne Hospital. He carried the day and was the sole cardiologist in the planning Northern Regional Health Authority Committee reporting to the Director General of Health.

Throughout his career Dr Gunawardane has had an abiding commitment to teaching. From 1982 onwards he was a Senior Lecturer of the University of Queensland and subsequently was Senior Lecturer and Associate Professor of Medicine at the JCU. He taught medical students, junior medical staff both basic and advanced trainees, allied medical staff and also medical practitioners in Townsville and outreach areas. Some of these trainees have gone on to become outstanding Consultants including two current Professors of Medicine.

Owing to the national recognition of the Townsville CCU, Dr Gunawardane participated in ground breaking international cardiovascular trials, the results of which still shape our current practice. The most notable were ISIS2 (International Study of Infarct Survival -2), the first trial which conclusively proved the effectiveness of thrombolysis and aspirin in the treatment of heart attack.

LIPID (Long term intervention with Pravastatin in Ischaemic Disease Trial), proving statins reduce heart attacks and vascular events. CURE (Clopidogrel in Unstable Angina to prevent Recurrent Ischaemic Events)

Dr Gunawardane also participated in JCU, QUEENSLAND and NATIONAL major collaborative studies some of which were presented internationally. He has published many manuscripts in peer reviewed journals.

In recognition of his services and achievements Dr Gunawardane was awarded a Fellowship of the Royal Australian College of Physicians (FRACP), Fellowship of the American College of Cardiology (FACC), Fellowship of the Royal College of Physicians Edinburgh (FRCPE) and the Fellowship of the Cardiac Society of Australia and New Zealand (FCSANZ).


  1. There is absolutely no doubt that we have some exceptionally talented and capable colleagues in our Batch. Till I read this article, I had no idea of the real extent of Kumar's achievements. Kumar, well done my friend and my heartiest congratulations to you. It was lovely to see the recognition given to Shirani for the unstinting support she gave you. I thought that was a really nice gesture.

    When you meet Kumar and talk to him, he is so gentle and unassuming and you would never guess what heights he has achieved.

    I wish him every happiness in his retirement.

  2. Dear Kumar
    Well done my good and faithful friend. What a fine accolade to receive for a ‘foreigner’ for your dedication to duty and the great service you have provided for over 3 decades. Please accept my congratulations You have that special quality which is rare even amongst doctors called genuine Compassion.

  3. Hi!Kumar,
    I,am immensely proud of your achievements and the service to Townsville community and the surroundings.
    Srilankan University should have offered you an honorary Professorship.That is my humble opinion,whether colleagues agree or not.
    You don't get anything for "summa"(nothing in Tamil) in Srilanka.

    Once again,I wish you a happy retirement in sunny Queensland.


  4. Quiet and unassuming plus hard consistent work to get that honor. Well done. We are all proud of you , Kumar.
    Sumathi, you still remember some Tamil- summa ( free )


  5. Thank you,Indra for your comment.Wanakkam!
    I learned a fair bit of Tamil,while serving in Deniyaya&Rakwana hospitals.As you know,there was a fair amount of estate workers who could not converse in Sinhala.
    I learned in a hard way with a little help from the attendants who were able to speak a few Tamil words.
    I try my best to converse in Tamil,when I happened to go to two Srilankan Tamil shops not far away from where I live.
    My wife is really surprised,as she is clueless with Tamil language.
    It is a pity,Tamil language was not taught to Sinhala students.I am sure,30% of the population in Srilanka speaks Tamil.


  6. You are absolutely correct Sumathi. This is probably the biggest mistake made by Politicians in Sri Lanka. Tamil and Sinhalese should have been taught to all students. The abiity to communicate with each other was mistakenly only sought through English. While I regard English as essential for anybody who seeks to be educated, we should have been taught the two common languages of the people of Sri Lanka. Short sightedness and dare I say, false chauvinism prevented that from happening. இது ஒரு பெரிய தவறு.

  7. How nice to see another colleague supporting my opinion.
    Will you believe,I bought a Tamil-Sinhala Dictionary-published in 1960.The printers were M D Gunasena.It shows that I was making an attempt to learn Tamil as far back as early 1960.
    The literary translation of the Tamil sentence(Idhu oru periya thawaru) it is a big blunder(neglect).Our Indra might correct,if I was wrong.

  8. Tamil was a compulsory subject for all Sinhala students in Middle School at Ananda College (from 1952 to 1954) which I attended. Mainly through disuse, I have forgotten most of it. In 1967 during my Internship, I had another opportunity to brush up my knowledge and then again at UNICEF where we were offered free classes in Tamil. The icing on the cake would have been if I was stationed in a Tamil speaking area. I would have then been very fluent in Tamil. But it was not to be.

    The Primer we used at Ananda was "Balabodhini". Our batch mate the late Karalapillai Sundarampillai who would have probably sat close to Sumathi in the Lecture Halls would have been a witness had he not met a tragic death.

    I still remember this poem from "Balabodhini":

    Pachcha kiliye vaa vaaa,
    Parlum choru lunne vaaa,
    Kochchi manjal pusai vaa,
    Pachcha kiliye vaa vaa.

    1. Hi!Lucky,
      I was well aware of the introduction of Tamil classes in Ananada College.It was the brainchild of late Mr.L H Mettananda.He was able to for see the disadvantage the Sinhala community going to suffer.Average educated Muslim is trilingual,most of the Tamils were either bilingual or trilingual.Majority of Sinhalese are monolingual.
      Sinhala politicians wanted to force Sinhalese down the throat of all other minorities.
      Now is the time to expose the danger of monolingualism.


    2. Mr. Mettananda has obviously been a man with great foresight.
      Lucky, I shall get a translation of your poem , and may be I should get myself a Balabodhini !

  9. I wish our words translate into action back home. It is politics that rule the country and education that influences people. To be able to live without fear and discrimination is a basic human right. In the words of Martin Luther King:
    I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident; that all men are created equal." ................

    I wish we see it in our lifetime!!!

  10. Sumathi,
    your translation is spot on.

  11. Kumar, Above all of these accolades, I have valued the honor and decorum you have always demonstrated. Kanthi and you have been a great pleasure to know. May all good things come to you both.

  12. Congratulations Kumar! (I'm getting into the action a bit late. ) You certainly deserve this honor bestowed on you by your community and hospital. After having read the article I realize how much you have contributed. Your hesitancy to talk about your accomplishments is a most appealing quality! Enjoy your retirement my friend. The best to you and Kanthi.