'SKIMS has evolved as leading surgical centre in the world’

In his conversation with Greater Kashmir Special Correspondent, Syed Rizwan Geelani, Prof (Dr) Omar Javed Shah talks about his expertise and new surgical gastroenterology techniques. Here are the excerpts:
The procedure which is cumbersome would entail the patient travelling outside the state for treatment. This led to a major advancement in abdominal surgery in this region.
The procedure which is cumbersome would entail the patient travelling outside the state for treatment. This led to a major advancement in abdominal surgery in this region.Special arrangement

Former Director and Dean at Sher-i-Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences (SKIMS) Srinagar, Professor (Dr) Omar Javed Shah is a pioneer and renowned International expert in the field of  Hepatobiliary and Pancreatic surgery. He is one of the few surgeons in the Country (and the first in J&K) to have launched  the first Surgical Gastroenterology program at SKIMS in 2005.

Throughout his career, Prof. Omar has helped to set up and to develop new Surgical Gastroenterology techniques such as the Omar’s technique of performing Splenoreneal shunt, Superior Approach for performing Pancreaticoduodenetomy (Whipple’s operation) and the Hepatico-cholecystoduodenostomy (HCD) for the palliative biliary drainage. All these procedures have attained International fame and application.

The Omar’s Technique, introduced at SKIMS in the year 2004 changed the course of patient treatment in J&K. The procedure which is cumbersome would entail the patient travelling outside the state for treatment. This led to a major advancement in abdominal surgery in this region.

Prof Omar and his team of doctors carried on to perform this operation on more than 100 patients. Testified by the great American Surgeon of the Century Prof Denton Cooley, who  himself got involved with the publication of this procedure and remained in constant touch with Prof Omar till he died in 2016.

The Superior approach technique for the treatment of Pancreatic tumours was a major breakthrough at SKIMS.

This changed the course of patient’s surgery in the country.

Despite the difficulties posed by lack of infrastructure and other associated issues and also with the formidable challenge of developing the department of Surgical Gastroenterology at SKIMS, Prof Omar and his team went ahead to modify the classical technique of performing the Whipple’s operation.

This led to the development of a high volume Pancreatic surgical department at SKIMS.

Performing more than 400 pancreatic resections, Prof Omar feels satisfied and thankful to Almighty for allowing him to do this.

Defined as the sixth method of performing Whipple’s operation, this procedure has been cited in the major surgical journals of the world and now can be found in the text books of pancreatic surgery.

In recognition of his outstanding surgical work, he was honoured by Royal College of Surgeons Edinburgh, FRCS. He is the first surgeon of JK to have been awarded the fellowship in this way. Besides, the Bible’s of Medicine and Surgery by Bailey and Love and Harrison respectively have acknowledged Dr Omar’s contribution. Even the museum of the Royal college of Surgeons (England) has preserved a rare picture of Parotid tumour contributed by Dr Omar.

In his conversation with Greater Kashmir Special Correspondent, Syed Rizwan Geelani, Prof (Dr) Omar Javed Shah talks about his expertise and new surgical gastroenterology techniques.

Here are the excerpts:

GK: You are a pioneer in Surgical Gastroenterology. What made you interested in this field?

Dr. Omar: The adage “like father like son” holds true especially for me .Both my father and father-in-law, in the 1950’s, when education in the valley was still in its infancy, moved to south India to pursue education. While one went to Chennai to study engineering, the other travelled all the way to Hyderabad to train as a doctor. It used to take them a good part of the week to reach their respective destinations. So the quest for the search of knowledge I inherited from my father. The desire intensified when I came into contact with my father in law. I chose to specialize as a surgeon while I was still undergoing my medical training and with the passage of time, I was drawn to the field of Surgical Gastroenterology.

My interest was primarily aroused due to my strong desire to introduce and improvise some of the rare surgical procedures in this field. I always wanted to serve my people and I found that I could be of immense use if I specialized in an area which was relatively virgin territory. Thus, my desire turned into a passion and there was no looking back, I can’t thank Allah enough for granting me good health and giving me the opportunity to perform at my optimal level and realize my passion.


GK: What have been your major achievements?

Dr. Omar: Professionally, I popularized and also introduced new methods for performing some rare advanced surgeries like, Splenorenal shunt for portal hypertension, Pancreaticoduodenectomy  for pancreatic cancer and also developed new procedure for obstructive jaundice due to pancreatic cancer(Hepaticocholecystoduodenostomy). All these procedures have received International recognition and can be found in various Internationally reputed text books of  Hepatobiliary  and Pancreatic surgery. I was very fortunate to have had good association with some of the historical surgical giants, like late Professor Denton Cooley, late Professor John Skandalakis and also late Professor Marshal Orloff. All of them have made extraordinary contributions in their fields.

They guided me at different stages and were instrumental in getting some of my original research work published at International level.

As an administrator at SKIMS, I think the SKIMS University functioning got regularized and uplifted. Further unique new sub-speciality courses were introduced at National level. My own department saw the introduction of a postdoctoral training course in Surgical Gastroenterology way back in 2012. More than fifteen doctors have trained under me and are currently rendering their services as Surgical Gastroenterologists across the country.

I am thankful to the Government and all my Senior and Junior colleagues, who reposed full faith and trust in me and made my journey memorable.


GK: Despite getting international recognition, you still preferred to serve people in the Valley. How do you see your decision now?

Dr. Omar: I always had a passion for serving my own people. Getting international recognition while stationed in the valley gave validation to my decision of never leaving my place of origin. Additionally, it gave credibility to my belief that one can achieve laurels while staying within one’s community and attending to their medical needs. I look back with a sense of satisfaction that I have served my community and I am indeed thankful for the peace, contentment and happiness that it has afforded me.

GK: You have earned a name for your technical contributions. How do you see its result on the ground?

Dr. Omar: It gives me a thrill whenever I learn that the methods I designed to treat my own people are applied to patients elsewhere around the globe. My technical contributions referred to in International books and Journals of repute have ushered in great results in the highly specialized field of portal Hypertension and pancreatic surgery. Consequently my place of work i.e SKIMS, evolved as a leading high volume surgical centre in the world. To achieve this landmark my gratitude goes to those patients and their families who reposed their unwavering trust in me and to my surgical team and to other colleagues who stood solidly behind me and encouraged me to go on. My family deserves a special mention, without their support, I would not have been able to forge ahead.

GK: There is a mention of Omar’s Technique in various internationally recognised books on Medical Science. Do you think it has helped the Youngsters in the Valley?

Dr. Omar: Once impossible becomes possible it leaves an impact. People, especially youngsters, get motivated to emulate someone who is a part of their community sharing the same resources available to produce work of international excellence. It is a source of inspiration. They get a feeling that if one amongst them can do it, so can they.


GK: Are you satisfied that the new techniques discovered by you are being carried forward by the doctors in the Valley or elsewhere?

Dr. Omar: When young surgeons apply my techniques here or elsewhere, it is recognition of the toil and hard work I have put in over more than three decades. When our own local surgeon alleviates the suffering of patients who had to travel outside the valley for proper treatment incurring huge costs .I send a silent prayer to Allah for guiding me .I see it as a Sadaqah Jariyah .May Allah accept my prayers and continue to shower his mercy upon me.


GK: Your comments on importance of leadership in performing Surgeries

Dr. Omar: Publicly expressing appreciation and acknowledging the efforts of your surgical team go a great way in building team spirit and spreading positive vibes. A good leader inspires and celebrates his team’s achievement. He articulates his vision clearly to his team, so that they fully understand how their efforts will contribute in achieving higher level goals. This empowers them to do their best and take on new challenges. Once the leader puts trust in his Surgical team and gives them  opportunity to learn and grow, then everything seems possible. Surgeons prefer to lead and the Surgical training has traditionally emphasized Independence, self-reliance and a well defined hierarchy is required in the operating room. However , with colleagues , nurses ,staff and patients they must develop a collaborative approach.


GK: How do you see the current scenario in terms of performing Surgeries?

Dr. Omar: It is indeed gratifying to see our young Surgeons undertaking advanced courses and applying their knowledge for the uplift of patient care. They need to be appreciated and given more opportunities to soar higher. I want to see them going a step further by introducing Liver Transplantation in this region so that poor patients who can ill afford going outside for treatment are benefitted.


GK: In present times, in some cases, patients are referred to outside J&K hospitals for major surgeries. Why is it so? How do you view it?

Dr. Omar: Referrals will always continue due to the rapid progress of Medical Science all over the globe and also due to the affordability of a certain section of society seeking centers of excellence with state of art facilities. This is a grey area and a challenge for our budding Surgeons and also at the government level. They have to fill in the gaps by satisfying the individual aspiration of patients and equipping the Institution with the kind of facilities that lure patients to other medical centers. Alhamdulillah, referrals have come down steeply due to innovations and commitment of Surgeons in the valley but still more needs to be done to attract patients to pursue their treatment within the region.

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