‘To her, patients always came first’: Cancer care pioneer dies at 93
Dr Viswanathan Shanta, a pioneer of cancer care in the country, passed away in Chennai in the early hours of Tuesday. Chairman of the Cancer Institute (WIA), Adyar, V Shanta was working Monday night when she complained of chest pain and was admitted to Apollo Hospitals. “She called me around 8:30pm complaining of chest pain,” said her younger sister V Susheela, who is a member of the governing board of the institute. V Shanta died of a myocardial infarction and was laid to rest with full state honours later in the evening. She was 93.
Born on March 11, 1927 in Chennai, V Shanta belonged to a family of achievers. Her grand-uncle CV Raman and her uncle, Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar, were both Nobel laureates. After completing her post graduate medical degree in gynaecology from Madras Medical College, she joined the Cancer Institute in 1955 established a year before by one of the country’s first women medical graduates, Dr Muthulakshmi Reddy. Dr S Krishnamurthi, Reddy’s son, was V Shanta’s collaborator and mentor.
V Shanta made the hospital her home, living in a room in the institute from her first day till Monday night. She steered it from a 12-bed hospital to a state-of-the-art cancer care centre and research institute that catered to more than 15,000 poor persons annually, and where 40% of the patients received free treatment with residence and those who could not pay were offered subsidised treatment.
“For a lot of people who got cancer, she was the person you thought of. I think people felt good going to her,” said Grandmaster Viswanathan Anand, whose now deceased mother Sushila Viswanathan was V Shanta’s patient in 2005. “She helped a lot of children,” said Anand, a regular donor to the institute.
V Shanta inspired generations of health care providers. “The country’s first paediatric oncology centre was established under her,” said Dr R Swaminathan, a statistician and epidemiologist at the Cancer Institute, who was a colleague. “Nobody valued data more than her. When people ridiculed us that we could never follow-up on patients in India, Dr Shanta showed the way to assess a cancer patient’s survival rate.”
“To her, patients always came first. Today, the Cancer Institute (WIA), Adyar is one of the most premium cancer institutions in India because of her hard work along with her mentor Dr S Krishnamurthi,” said Dr CS Pramesh, director of Tata Memorial Hospital in Mumbai.
V Shanta was on the WHO Advisory Committee on Cancer till March 2005. She was a recipient of several national and international awards including the Ramon Magsasay award for public service, Padma Shri (1986), Padma Bhushan (2006) and Padma Vibhushan (2016). Prime Minister Narendra Modi, finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman and other leaders condoled her death. “Dr V Shanta will be remembered for her outstanding efforts to ensure top quality cancer care. The Cancer Institute at Adyar, Chennai, is at the forefront of serving the poor and downtrodden. I recall my visit to the Institute in 2018,” the PM tweeted.
With inputs from Rupsa Chakraborty
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