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An Inspirational Figure

March 11, 2010

The Steady Hand of a Doctor’s Courage
Taken from the Jakarta Globe

in late February 2001, a young fisherman from Pelabuhan Merak, West Java, arrived in Jakarta in dire need of a neurosurgeon.

Ardiansyah, with both his arms and legs paralyzed, was brought to the capital in a car borrowed from a neighbor and driven by his brother. When he arrived in Jakarta he was in critical condition. To Ardiansyah, every breath he took felt like it could be his last.

An MRI scan revealed that Ardiansyah had a potentially lethal cavernoma in the pons region of his brainstem. A cavernoma, which is made up of multiple little bubbles of various sizes, filled with blood and lined by a special layer of cells that resemble a small bunch of berries, can range in size from microscopic to inches in diameter. They can cause seizures, stroke symptoms and hemorrhages.

The pons is a 2.5-centimeter-long organ inside every human brain consisting of soft vital cables that relay functions to the body. Its existence is so crucial that if someone’s pons is dysfunctional, experts in the medical field consider them dead.

In his biography, “Tinta Emas di Kanvas Dunia” (“Golden Ink on the World’s Canvas”), neurosurgeon Eka Julianta Wahjoepramono talks about his encounter with Ardiansyah and the race to save the fisherman’s life. Eka tells himself that even though he has never touched or even seen a pons, if he does not perform this lifesaving surgery Ardiansyah will die.

In an interview with the Jakarta Globe, biographer Pitan Daslani said that Eka’s story, his ability to overcome and defy expectations, was a perfect example for all young Indonesians.

“Eka came from a poor family, but he never gave up his dream of being a successful neurosurgeon,” Pitan said.

Eka, the oldest of five children, was born Tjioe Tjay Kian on July 27, 1958, in Klaten, a small city in Central Java. A government ban on the use of Chinese names forced his family to change his name to Eka in 1965.

Eka, the current dean of the School of Medicine at Pelita Harapan University, grew up in a simple household, but he knew from a young age that he was destined for the world of medicine.

In high school, Eka leaned toward subjects like biology and chemistry.

After being rejected by several universities, Eka settled in at Diponegoro University in Semarang, Central Java, where he spent six years training to be a doctor before moving on to pursue his specialization in neurosurgery at Padjadjaran University in Bandung.

Eka talks in the biography of the battle to control his nerves as he prepared for Ardiansyah’s life-or-death surgery.

He read through countless reference book and articles regarding the type of surgery he was about to perform, and consulted with other neurosurgeons before stepping into the operating room.

The operation went seamlessly and was over in four hours. Eka watched nervously over his patient, and was relieved when, 10 days after the surgery, Ardiansyah was able to return home. Later tests showed the cavernoma had been completely removed.

“After a while I realized that this type of operation was rare not only in Indonesia, but also the world,” Eka told Kompas.com at the launch of the biography on Feb. 25.

Pitan said that before Eka’s attempt to save Ardiansyah’s life, pons surgery was uncharted waters. “No other surgeons had the courage to touch it,” he said.

Since that groundbreaking operation in 2001, Eka has performed 13 similar surgeries, with a 100 percent success rate.

As a result of his advancements in the world of pons surgery, Eka began to receive invitations from universities and medical institutions from around the world that wanted him to share his experience and expertise.

In November 2007, Yong Kwang Tu, Taiwan’s top neurosurgeon, invited Eka to serve as a visiting professor at Taiwan National University.

Yong said he wanted young people in Taiwan to be able to see and listen to Eka’s story and his subsequent rise to the forefront of neurosurgery.

Eka has also been invited to serve as a visiting professor at Taipei Medical University, the University of Melbourne, the University of Toronto, Tokyo Women’s Medical University and Harvard University.

“He was the first Asian visiting professor to teach at the School of Medicine at Harvard University,” Pitan said.

He said that it was important for all Indonesians to hear Eka’s story of struggle and achievement.

“Most of us are proud telling success stories about people from other countries,” he said.

According to Pitan, Eka’s modesty and sincerity, along with his professional success, make him role model for young Indonesians.

“He admits when he’s wrong,” the biographer said.

Pitan said that Eka always puts human life above everything else, including administration.

He said that he had seen numerous cases where hospitals calmly delayed a surgery until the patient had paid the administration fees.

“Eka doesn’t care whether his patient is rich or poor. For him the treatment comes first,” Pitan said.

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