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The Queen of Indian Neurosurgery: Dr. T.S. Kanaka
This story appears in the December 2018 issue of School LIVE.
In a world of plenty, it is often difficult to understand what is takes to be a first at something. But to fight your way out, in a world bent on showing you down, is a life worth fighting for. We take a look at the life of a woman who become an inspiration for so many others to venture the road least taken. Meet Dr. T.S. Kanaka, the first female neurosurgeon across Asia!

image source: twitter


It is, probably, difficult for us today to imagine what doing pioneering work in any field could entail. Not only are there dozens of people who have ventured into uncharted territory, but they have also managed to become a success story and an inspiration for hundreds who came later. One such person to have walked down a very difficult path was Dr. Thanjavur Santhanakrishna Kanaka.


Dr. T.S. Kanaka, born in 1932 in Madras (now, Chennai), was one of the eight siblings. She was blessed to have a father who understood the value of education, being an officer of education himself. In times, when child marriages were a common phenomena in India, Kanaka’s father took the bold decision to not only educate his girl child, but also let her soar as high as she wanted. He inspired her to become an engineer, a field not many women ventured into. But, eventually it was Kanaka's mother who realized that her daughter’s compassionate demeanor could help her become a doctor. Knowing her parents had the best intentions for her in mind, she decided to pursue medicine and this, probably, became the best decision that Kanaka ever took.


image source: neurologyindia.com


The road to a life of success is not an easy one. Once Kanaka decided to tread into the field of medicine, she faced discouragement at every step. Along with all the hard work required, Kanaka had to encounter unpleasant reactions from her seniors and colleagues who weren't used to having women walk into the surgery rooms, and then excelling at it. After being failed in her final exams five times, Kanaka finally succeeded on her sixth attempt.

Getting her first break as an assistant to a surgeon did not come easy either. By a stroke of luck, she found herself appointed as assistant to Dr. A Venugopal, when the actual assistant had go on leave for  training. He taught her everything there was to learn about neurosurgery, and even allowed her to carry out surgeries single handedly.

Dr. T.S. Kanaka found her name etched in the Limca Book of Records for donating blood 139 times.

During the Indo China war, Kanaka volunteered to help the injured and wounded soldiers from 1962 to 1963. She joined the Army ranks and helped in a war torn territory at a time when most women were not even allowed to complete their basic graduation. She stood undeterred and became the first neurosurgeon in India to pioneer chronic electrode implants in the brain. In 1975, she became the first Indian neurosurgeon to perform a deep brain stimulation surgery.


Kanaka’s hunger to learn more was not easily satiated. After excelling at deep brain stimulation surgery, she went on to learn many new and innovative tactics in the field of neurosurgery, including stereotaxic surgery. She worked at the Government General Hospital in Chennai till her retirement in 1990. Post her retirement she spent all her life savings in establishing a hospital named after her parents, Sri Santhanakrishna Padmavathi Health Care and Research Foundation.


On November 14th, 2018, Kanaka passed away at the age of 86. The queen of India's neurosurgery left a legacy behind, which will continue to inspire women from all walks of life. Her own niece is one of the many women to continue living her legacy!

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