Lives of the fellows

Weligepolage Don Hemachandra Perera

b.14 January 1941 d.19 September 2009
MB BS Ceylon(1967) MRCP(1973) FRCP(1992) FCCP Sri Lanka(1993)

W D H Perera was a consultant dermatologist at the National Hospital, Colombo, Sri Lanka. He was born in Avissawella, the son of Weligepolage Don William Perera, an Ayurvedic medical practitioner, and Madurawathie Jayathilake. He received his education at Ananda College, a premier public school in Colombo. A brilliant student, he won a gold medal for the best bioscience student, was the senior prefect and a sergeant major of the cadet corps, leading his school to the Herman Loos cup for the best all round platoon.

W D H entered the faculty of medicine, Peradeniya, as a member of the pioneer batch of students in 1962, graduating MB BS in 1967. Following his mandatory internship, he worked briefly as a house surgeon on the floating hospital ship Hope. After a period of training in dermatology in Colombo, he proceeded to the UK, where he was trained by W J Cunliffe at the University of Leeds and obtained the MRCP.

Returning to Sri Lanka in 1975, he was first appointed as a consultant dermatologist at Ratnapura General Hospital. He went on to hold consultant appointments in all the major hospitals in Sri Lanka (in Kandy, North Colombo, Colombo South and at the National Hospital, Colombo) and also served as a consultant at the General Hospital, Rotherham, in the UK (from 1980 to 1981), and in Saudi Arabia (from 1986 to 1988).

W D H will be long remembered by his colleagues and students for his signal contribution to the advancement of dermatology education and services in Sri Lanka. The Board of Study in Dermatology, set up in 1995, which heralded a landmark in specialised training in dermatology in Sri Lanka, was his brainchild and was made possible due to his untiring efforts. He was the chairman of the Board in 1998. He was awarded the honorary fellowship of the Sri Lanka College of Dermatologists in 2008.

Under his guidance a comprehensive teaching programme consisting of basic and advanced dermatology, medicine and the subsidiary subjects was formulated with meticulous care, leading to the degree of MD in dermatology. Sri Lanka today can now boast of a strong national dermatology service and a respected academic specialty. As an examiner in dermatology he was in great demand both in Sri Lanka and abroad. He left a legacy of probably the single largest contribution to dermatology as a specialty in Sri Lanka, setting high standards in academic excellence and in moral and ethical principles.

His research interests were also wide and publications varied from acne, probably the primary interest nurtured during his years at Leeds, to immunological studies and dermatological issues of public health concern to Sri Lanka, such as leprosy and seasonal dermatological problems in the population. Being a respected clinician and leader in his field his technical opinions were much sought after by the senior health policymakers in the country and his influence on the development of the health system in the country was considerable.

He was a founder member of the Association of Dermatologists of Sri Lanka (SLAD) and, with a small dedicated band of dermatologists, built the Association to a preeminent place in the medical scene in Sri Lanka. He served as editor of the Sri Lanka Journal of Dermatology in 1998 and delivered the SLAD oration in 2001. W D H was an honorary corresponding member of the German Dermatological Society and was the architect of the close links that have developed between SLAD and the German counterpart.

He was a live wire in the South Asian Regional Association of Dermatologists, serving from its inception and becoming its president in 2003. In recognition of his single-minded dedication to the profession in the region, he was posthumously honoured with a lifetime achievement award at the Sixth South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation Conference of Dermatologists in 2009.

As a pioneering graduate of the medical school at Peradeniya his pride in his old school and his devotion to the welfare of the school and its students was legendary. He founded the Peradeniya Medical Alumni Association (PeMSAA) and chaired the first ever PeMSAA International Medical Congress in 1993. This is established as a major medical event in the country. In the days leading up to his death, W D H was making elaborate plans to celebrate the golden anniversary of his medical school.

In addition to his multiple interests in academic and professional matters, W D H was strongly attracted to adventure and to life outdoors, particularly bird-watching. In his early years, he had limited time to dedicate to these interests, but after his retirement he embraced these with zest and soon gained admission to the Ceylon Bird Club. He was an excellent bird photographer and his images have adorned numerous calendars and posters, both locally and abroad. A few rare photographs are found on the website of the Oriental Bird Club, based in the UK, which deals with birds of the Asian region.

W D H was the ‘strong silent type’, with a subtle yet brilliant sense of humour. He was an institution builder with extraordinary stamina and capacity for working long hours, and was unarguably the outstanding figure in dermatology in Sri Lanka in the past two decades. He bore his terminal illness bravely and with dignity.

He was survived by his wife Wineetha Ranjinie Perera, a consultant psychiatrist, and two sons, Thushara and Gehan, and a daughter in law, Manori. They were always of great support to him and the Perera home was always warm and hospitable and served as the epicentre of all activities that involved friends and colleagues.

Palitha Abeykoon

[The Sunday Island 21 December 2009 – accessed 28 February 2011; The Island 18 September 2010 – accessed 28 February 2011]

(Volume XII, page web)

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