Emeritus Professor of Surgery, University of Colombo
Merrill – my Friend indeed!
It was in 1995 when statistics revealed that the commonest cancer in women, which for a long time was cancer of the cervix of the uterus or womb, was changing in that cancer of the breast was becoming the commonest cancer in females in Sri Lanka. The tools available for early detection worldwide were ultrasound examination, Mammogram and Fine needle Aspiration Cytology (FNAC). Only Ultrasound and FNAC were commonly available in Sri Lanka and there was only one mammogram machine in the private sector, none in the Government sector. A mammogram detects cancer early with the prospect of less mutilating surgery and of cure following early treatment. I was the Professor of Surgery attached to the Colombo Medical Faculty and the National Hospital of Sri Lanka. Appeals to the government to buy these machines was met with the usual answer, "No funds". The cost of the machine and located in a state of the art facility in the Department of Surgery lecture hall complex was Rs 10 million. I discussed the project with my friend Mrs. Padma Maharaja, who with her usual efficiency and drive organized several "Fashion shows", each one of which raised Rs 200 to 300 Thousand. We knew that something bigger had to be done. Around this time, the wife of an employee in the French Embassy was operated on by me for breast cancer. Her brother was resident in New York. He was an accomplished pianist who had performances at the Carnegie Hall, New York. She offered to get him down to play at a gala sit down fund raising Dinner at the Hilton Hotel, free of charge. We needed a sponsor. Merrill Fernando readily consented and with the able assistance of his sons Malik and Dilhan, the event turned out to be a memorable one and a tremendous success. Soon there were numerous other benefactors too. The ultimate outcome was the purchase and installation of the mammogram machine at the "Breast Health Centre" of the Department of Surgery at the National Hospital of Sri Lanka. It is yet in operation. Not only has it benefitted thousands of females and families in Sri Lanka, but it served as an impetus to the Ministry of Health to purchase and install mammogram machines in the major hospitals of Sri Lanka.
The Colombo Friend in Need Society is the oldest charitable institution in Sri Lanka, established in 1831. It was initially set up as a "soup kitchen" for the destitute, served by British ladies. Later it served as a "Transit Hostel" for orthopedic patients coming to Colombo from all over the island to stay overnight to enable them to attend the orthopedic clinic in the morning. In 1985, I joined this Society and with the help of a dynamic lady, the late Mrs. Swarna Ferdinand and an energetic committee, set up the artificial leg program using the "Jaipur foot piece". This gave amputees the dignity of independent mobility.
The concept of "total health care" means that we need to look after their welfare, physical, social and mental well-being. We therefore organized three further programs to assist their rehabilitation program. One was "AIDEX" (aiding the ex-abled), an annual Sports meet. The other was a selfemployment scheme, where amputees are helped with the materials required to set up a project to supplement or assist in their trade/income. And the third, a scholarship scheme to assist children using an artificial leg with financial assistance in the form of a monthly cash allowance. Several students have even entered the Universities assisted by this scheme. I mention these activities in detail so that the reader may appreciate their significance. Merrill Fernando and the MJF Charitable Organization has supported these charitable activities generously to the extent that we at the Friend in Need Society may not have been able to continue some of them without his support. A friend indeed.
I wish Merrill Fernando a very happy 90th Birthday, many more to come with Good Health and Happiness. May he and his family be blessed for all the good that they are doing.