Sir Nicholas Attygalle Memorial Oration

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Nicholas Attygalle, the fifth child in a family of nine sons and two daughters was born to Don Louis Attygalle and Docelia Jane Haddagoda on the 14th July 1894. This is a family of ancient lineage and several generations of Ayurvedic Physicians. He received his primary education at St. Luke’s School in Ratnapura and then proceeded to complete his schooling at Royal College, Colombo. He entered the Colombo Medical College in 1913 and passed the Licentiate in Medicine and Surgery in 1919 with a first class and Vanderstraten Gold Medal in Pathology.

In 1925 he left for United Kingdom for further studies and returned to the island in 1929 with M.R.C.S., L.R.C.P.(Lond), D.L.O.(Lond) and F.R.C.S.(England). However, upon returning to Ceylon, ascending to upper rungs of the ladder proved to be an uphill struggle for him due to countless challenges. Although he was sufficiently qualified for a post of Ear, Nose and Throat Surgeon that was available in the Department of Health Services at the time, he was appointed District Medical Officer at Nawalapitiya. There he did n immense service that was appreciated by both the staff and the public particularly with regard to Obstetrics and Gynecology.  In 1931, he was appointed Demonstrator in Anatomy at the Colombo Medical School. He took up duties as Surgical Registrar of General Hospital, Colombo in 1932 and moved on to become a Senior Clinical Tutor in 1933.

That same year he again left for UK to specialize in Obstetrics and Gynaecology and in 1934, he obtained the M.R.C.O.G. in 1934, becoming the first Ceylonese to obtain this coveted diploma. He then went to Vienna where he followed a course in Gynaecological Pathology and Physiology and qualified to become a Life Member of the Austrian Medical Association.

As he returned to the country, he succeeded Dr. Lucian De Zilwa as the Gynaecologist of the Colombo General Hospital. Since he assumed those duties, Sir Nicholas has made numerous breakthrough advances in the field of Obstetrics and Gynaecology that have shaped it into the practice, as we know today. He started an outpatient clinic, the first specialist clinic at the General Hospital, introduced effective masks to prevent contamination of surgical fields and trained his staff in good, novel techniques. Sir Nicholas took a keen interest in training his registrars and assistants and set very high standards of practice for them.

Sir Nicholas was appointed Dean of the Faculty of Medicine in 1945 and he was elected Dean on three successive occasions during the time he served in the Faculty until 1953. He was made a Fellow of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologist of Great Britain and became the first Sri Lankan to be both a Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons and the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologist.

In 1952, he became a member of the Senate and succeeded Sir Gerard Wijekoon as the President of the Senate. He was honoured with the Knight Bachelor of the Empire in 1953 for his invaluable service to the country in the professional and academic spheres. In 1955, he was appointed as the Vice-Chancellor of the University; the first Sri Lankan to hold the post and held the position for 11 years steering higher education in the country into a new era. Sir Nicholas was elected President of the Inter-University Board of India and Sri Lanka and also a member of the Council of the Association of Commonwealth Universities.

Sir Nicholas Attygalle was an active member of the Sri Lanka Medical Association and became its President in 1937. He was also the first President of the Association of Obstetricians and Gynaecologist of Ceylon (not the Sri Lanka College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologist) and later he was elected patron. He has many scholarly articles in his name on his work in the field of Obstetrics and Gynaecology and he is without doubt primarily responsible for the advancement of the field in the country to its high standards today.

Sir Nicholas was a strong advocate in improving standards of education in the country. The Sivali Vidyalaya, the first Buddhist School in Ratnapura was founded by Sir Nicholas brother, Arnold and Sir Nicholas took over as the Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the School following his brothers death. He was also the Chairman of Board of Trustees of Ananda College, Colombo, Senior Vice-President of the Royal College Union and the Chairman of the National Science Council. He was elected a member of the Ceylon Medical Council where he remained in it for 21 years and became the first President of the Council.

Sir Nicholas was an eminent Buddhist and devoted much of his time to Buddhist activities. He was a man of varied interests who moved among a wide circle of friends. He was an excellent teacher, a fair examiner and a stern disciplinarian. The true humanity and benevolence within the rough exterior and the charisma and magnetism he possessed ensured unparalleled gratitude and loyalty from all those around him. He passed away on the 27th March 1970, mourned by a nation who truly benefited from his dynamism, his vision and his humanity.

Past Orations

2014 – “Glutathione transferase derived compounds as potential therapeutics for the treatment of cardiac arrhythmias and heart failure”, Dr Ruwani  Hewawasam, BSc (Hon)(Peradeniya), MPhil (Ruhuna), PhD (ANU), Head & Senior Lecturer, Department of Biochemistry, Faculty of Medicine, University of Ruhuna

2013 – The most challenging of them all; The patient with ‘Nothing Wrong’, Dr Harshini Rajapakse, MBBS, MDPsy (Col), PhD (Durham), Department of Psychiatry, Faculty of Medicine, University of Ruhuna

2012 – “Inflammatory Bowel Disease: The Current Status in Sri Lanka”, Prof Janaka de Silva MBBS, MD, DPhil (Oxon.), FRCP, FCCP, FNAS (SL), FRACP (Hon) , Senior Professor and Chair of Medicine, Faculty of Medicine, University of Kelaniya

2011 – Not Awarded

2010 – Stroke in Sri Lankan women – are they different? Dr Udaya K Ranawaka MBBS MD FRCP (Lond) FCCP. Consultant Neurologist & Senior Lecturer, Faculty of Medicine, University of Kelaniya

2009 – Pulmonary hypertension and congenital heart disease, lessons learned – Dr P A Gooneratne, Consultant Cardiothoracic Surgeon, Sri Jayawardenepura General Hospital

2008 – Not Awarded

2007 – Towards total maternal health through well-advised paternal participation – Dr. L. A. W. Sirisena, Consultant Obstetrician and Gynaecologist, Colombo.

2006 – Not awarded

2005 – Not awarded

2004 – The challenges of managing infertility – Prof Harshalal R Seneviratne, Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Faculty of Medicine, University of Colombo

2003 – Not awarded

2002 – Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS): How relevant is it to women from South Asia – Dr. Chandrika N Wijeyaratne, Senior Lecturer in Reproductive Medicine, Faculty of Medicine, University of Colombo.

2001 – Definition of the stomach and the oesophagus – Prof. Parakrama Chandrasoma, Professor of Pathology, Keck School of Medicine, University of South California, USA.

2000 – Not awarded

1999 – Suicide in Sri Lanka – Points to Ponder – Prof. H Janaka de Silva, Professor of Medicine, Faculty of Medicine, University of Kelaniya.

1998 – Sri Lankan strokes – Dr. Saman Gunatilake, Consultant Neurosurgeon, Colombo.

1997 – The Natural history of Non Insulin Dependent Diabetes Mellitus in Sri Lanka – Dr. Devaka Fernando, Senior Lecturer in Medicine, Faculty of Medicine, University of Colombo.

1996 – Developing a molecular marker for metachoronous colorectal cancer – Dr. Mohan de Silva, Senior Lecturer in Surgery, University of Sri Jayawardenapura.

1990-1995 – Not awarded

1989 – A neurosurgical profile of spinal disorders in Sri Lanka – Dr. Colvin Samarasinghe, Consultant Neurosurgeon, General Hospital, Colombo.

1988 – Not awarded

1987 – Endoscopic evaluation of diseases of the upper gastrointestinal tract – Sri Lankan Experience – Dr. Dayasiri Fernando

1986 – The role of surgery in the management of thoraco-lumbar spinal injuries.- Dr. J. R. Corea

1984 and 1985  – Not awarded

1983 – Perthe’s disease in Kurunegala – Chanaka Wijesekera, Consultant Orthopaedic Surgeon, Kurunegala.

1978 – 1982 – Not awarded

1977 – Atrial septal defects – Dr. S.J. Stephan, Consultant Thoracic Surgeon, General Hospital, Colombo.

1976 – Not awarded

1975 – Life and work of Sir Nicholas Attygalle – Dr. D. A. Ranasinghe, Emeritus Professor of Obstetrics and Gyanecology, Colombo Campus, University of Sri Lanka.