Lives of the fellows

Chulani Tissa Kappagoda

b.14 March 1943 d.28 January 2015
MB BS Ceylon(1965) DCH(1967) MRCP(1968) MRCP Edin(1968) PhD Leeds(1972) FRCPC(1983) FACC(1983) FRCP(1988) FRCP Edin(1994) Hon DSc Ruhuna(2008)

Chulani Tissa Kappagoda was professor of medicine at the University of California, Davis. He was born in Colombo, Ceylon, the son of Medduma Banda Kappagoda and Beryl Kusumawathie Ilangantileke. He grew up in Kandy, home of Sri Dalada Maligawa (the Temple of the Tooth), one of the most sacred places of worship in the Buddhist world. His Buddhist practice shaped his outlook on life, and was reflected in his calm and gentle demeanour. He was educated at Trinity College, Kandy, and University of Ceylon, from which he received his medical degree in 1965 at the age of 22. He held pre-registration posts at the General and Lady Ridgeway hospitals in Colombo.

He left Ceylon in 1966, but always considered it home and felt a deep love for the country and its people, returning over the years to visit friends and family and impart his love of learning to students. He first went to the UK, where he undertook postgraduate training, earning a PhD in 1972 from the University of Leeds and remaining as a lecturer in cardiovascular studies. While in England he met and married Mary Maguire, a fellow physician, and they had two daughters, Manel Kappagoda and Shanthi Kappagoda.

In 1978, he moved to the University of Alberta, Canada, where he was a professor of medicine and director of cardiac rehabilitation at the Health Sciences Centre in Edmonton. In 1990, he went to the University of California, Davis, as a professor of medicine and director of cardiac rehabilitation. He also served as director of the drug studies unit in the division of cardiovascular medicine and was later responsible for the coronary heart disease reversal program. He maintained an active research programme, focusing on neural regulation of the heart and circulation, dietary factors in the development of atherosclerosis, and the physiology of blood vessels. Over his lifetime he authored numerous scientific papers, as well as books and book chapters.

He was a fellow of the Royal Colleges of Physicians of London, Edinburgh and Canada, and a fellow of the American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology. He received many awards and honours in his life for his research, but he particularly valued receiving the Benians fellowship in 1987, which allowed him to spend a year at St John’s College, Cambridge.

Tissa’s contributions to cardiovascular science both as an investigator and a teacher were great, but should not overshadow his role as a caring physician devoted to the welfare of all patients. In 2008, he was invited to give a speech to the graduating class of the University of Ruhuna in Galle, Sri Lanka, which included eager young medical students anxious to get into the world of medicine. He chose to focus his speech on the topic of human interaction, in particular, dignity. In his words: ‘…the role of a physician is above all else to restore that sense of dignity in their patients and that is just as important as making an accurate diagnosis and instituting appropriate therapy’. Ensuring his patients’ dignity was at the heart of his medical practice.

He mentored and supervised more than 30 graduate, PhD and post-doctoral students. Of these, 19 PhDs hold academic tenured positions in universities around the world. The rest include clinical cardiologists, an obstetrician and a scientific writer. He derived great pleasure from seeing his former students succeed in academia and life. Even in his last years, his students sent articles and chapters to him for review before they were submitted for publication.

Tissa never lost his delight in what he referred to as ‘life’s rich pattern’, and his varied hobbies attest to his wide-ranging intellect. He was always up-to-date with world cricket; relished debates about the finer points of Sri Lankan and world politics; had an encyclopedic knowledge of British mysteries and kept his daughters updated about critical current events in the world of popular culture. An accomplished artist, he spent hours creating delicate watercolours of traditional Sri Lankan scenes. He enjoyed visiting art museums and attended many art classes and workshops at home and abroad, always willing to learn new techniques from other artists. He will be remembered for his kindness, patience, wisdom and humour.

Manel Kappagoda

(Volume XII, page web)

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