Paul Brand was a Christian doctor who dedicated his life and his skills to the people of India. He was the son of missionaries to India and, from the age of nine, was schooled and trained in England while his parents remained.
After Brand graduated as an orthopaedic surgeon, he was recruited to serve at the Christian Medical College in Vellore. However, history remembers him most for his work at a nearby sanatorium for victims of Hanson’s Disease – leprosy.
Little was known or understood about the crippling effects of leprosy on its victims. Brand realized that some of the same techniques used to rehabilitate the motor functions of victims of diseases such as polio held promise for treating leprosy.
After a year of research and study, Brand began a series of surgeries on Krishnamurthy, a young man whose hands were completely atrophied and useless, his fingers curled into a claw position. Patiently, over time, Brand split moved healthy muscles and tendons to serve in place of paralyzed muscle. The claw gradually was restored to a working hand.
A few short months after the final operation was complete, Krishnamurthy returned, and there was little joy in him. He was in poor health, and complained of the “bad hands” the doctor had given him. On examination, there was no evidence that the operation was anything but a success. The hands worked normally. So why was Krishnamurthy unhappy?
It turned out that, for a leper in India, healthy hands were of little use. No one would employ them – the leprous scars were still evident. Begging was the main source of income, and the more pitiable the person, the greater the income. Krishnamurthy no longer received enough begging income to sustain his needs. Brand had, he realized, solved the wrong problem first.
Brand and his team developed approaches to avoid injuries to leprous hands and feet. On one occasion, a patient had overnight lost a large part of a finger. Prior to Brand’s work, this was thought to be part of the disease process as the leprosy invaded the fingers. A search for the cause determined that a rat had gnawed on the finger and, because the patient had no feeling in that digit, he was unaware. Cats were brought in to the residence to deal with the problem, and each patient, upon discharge, was given a kitten to continue the “treatment”.
Using a gift from an elderly missionary, Brand established Nava Jeeva Nilayam (New Life Centre) on the hospital grounds, a place where leprosy patients could live in community during their rehabilitation. There they learned to manage their lives and master a trade, restoring their self-sufficiency.
Job, too, knew what it was to suffer, describing his own plight this way: “Now that God has unstrung my bow and afflicted me…, my dignity is driven away as by the wind” (Job 30:11a, 15a). For those afflicted with leprosy around the world, Dr. Paul Brand’s work has restored to them both hope and dignity.
- RD June 1966 “Sahib Doctor: The Healing Surgeon of Vellore”
- Excerpted from the book “Ten Fingers for God” by Dorothy Clarke Wilson
- Agra, Uttar Pradesh, India Photo: Amit Gupta/Flickr