If medicine is an art based on science, surgery is its most wonderful expression. Alvin Thomas meets a Muscat doctor who has performed more than 10,000 plastic surgeries and is still counting.
A simple Google search with the tag ‘top plastic surgeons in Oman’ will present you a list of websites talking about some of the most prolific doctors currently operating in the country. The lists are long, but if you look closely, you will see that there is one doctor whose name stands out on top of all the lists: Dr C. Thomas.
Oh, but I haven’t even started, yet. It’s not just in Oman that Dr Thomas is revered as one of the top surgeons; it’s all around the world. A quick glimpse of his triumphs is a testament to what this man has achieved, so getting him for an interview was not easy, owing to his tight schedules at the Aster Al Raffah Hospital in Al Ghubra where he currently operates.
But we make it happen and, in the process, get to hear a side of the doctor that no one knows. Here is his story:
Born to a family in the humble town of Kaipattoor, in Kerala, India, Dr Chona Thomas did his early schooling in the small locality before opting for medical studies in the Government Medical College in Trivandrum.
Following his graduation (in 1971), he left for Oman.
“It was always my dream to become a doctor,” he says.
“I came to Oman as a locum surgeon in the American Mission Hospital (which is now defunct) on the 18th of April 1971 for a period of two months.
“It was the only hospital in the whole of Oman. But, after two months, I was asked by the chief medical officer Dr. Donald T. Bosch to join the team permanently. I did not hesitate, and soon I was the only Asian surgeon there.
Soon after the ascension of His Majesty the Sultan to the throne, however, the health industry in Oman was reformed, thus giving birth to the Khoula Hospital –the first surgical hospital in the country.
“I was invited to join the hospital as a general surgeon,” he recalls. “After becoming a doctor, it became my goal to become a surgeon. After achieving that, I decided to become a plastic surgeon.”
To fulfil his goal, he resigned from his position and took up an offer to train as a plastic surgeon at the Oxford Plastic Surgery Centre in the UK.
“There, I completed my FRCS (Fellowship of the Royal Colleges of Surgeons).
“I could have continued my job in the UK. But then I got an invitation from the then Health Minister to professionally start plastic surgery in Oman.”
There was no looking back for Dr Thomas.
“I started the plastic surgery unit with 10 beds and one assistant doctor. That became the largest facility in the whole of the Middle East with over 100 beds and 25 doctors by the time I relinquished my service from the Ministry of Health in 2012.”
Since 1998, Khoula Hospital is now recognised as a centre for higher surgical training in plastic surgery after official inspection by the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh.
Talking about the challenges that he faced during his early days, Dr Thomas says: “Of course, I was the only chap there and I didn’t have support from the doctors or paramedical side. So, it was a tough climb.
But there were plenty of cases to tend to.
“The cases that were first reported were the cleft palate and other congenital abnormalities on the ears, hands and fingers; aside from a high number of hypospadias (a disorder of the urethra where the urinary opening is not at the usual location) in addition to accidents, Cancer and Burn patients.
“The growth of plastic surgery in Oman was not in an oblique way, but rather in a vertical way. Soon, the number of beds increased and so did the number of doctors.
“Oman’s medical and other services were the last to develop compared to other GCC countries; but it developed in a fantastic manner,” he tells, before going on to thank His Majesty the Sultan Bin Said Al-Said and H.E. The Minister of Health for all their support.
Dr Thomas’ relation to His Majesty the Sultan does not end there. For his services to the nation, His Majesty conferred the civil service award, Order of Oman, and granted citizenship to the doctor and his family in 1991.
“I was invited to become a citizen, and when the news was broken to me, I said that I love and I like Oman.
He is also a visiting Senior Consultant in Plastic Surgery to the Aster Medcity in Kochi, Kerala.
Despite all of his fame and success, however, the doctor remains humble. “Today’s theme is teamwork,” he points out.
“If the team is good the service will be good. This is a principle I have believed in from the beginning. So, wherever I go, I try to develop a team.
“By doing it, we are also laying the foundation for the future generations. If you develop something and there is no one to follow that, then it is of no use to humanity.
“You have to contribute to the knowledge of our successors.”
Dr Thomas says he has taught several doctors his techniques for cleft Lip and palate surgery.
Today, his technique of Repair of Cleft Lip and Nose correction has been recognised worldwide and Dr Thomas holds the record for performing the highest number of such surgeries in the world.
“I was invited to perform this surgery in front of a world group of plastic surgeons of 5000, at the World Conference of Cleft and Craniofacial Surgery, Texas, USA in 2008, which was an incredible way to let the world know of this technique to perform the surgery.
When I ask Dr Thomas about the number of operations he has conducted over the years, he laughs: “Maybe more than 10,000 operations for cleft lip alone.
At Khoula Hospital, emphasis is given to Reconstructive Functional operations, whereas in private hospitals like Aster Al Raffah hospital and Aster Medcity, Kerala, India, more cosmetic operations such as Rhinoplasty (Nose Correction), Facial Rejuvenation for facial wrinkles and aging, Blepharoplasty (Eyelid reduction), Mammoplasty (Augmentation and Reduction), Abdominoplasty (Tummy Tuck), Body Contouring, Liposuction, Gynaecomastia Correction (Male Breast enlargement) and so on are done on a regular basis.
Dr Thomas was awarded the distinguished Alumni Award from the Government Medical College, Trivandrum, and the Dr Bhiman Das Bilwani Oration Award from the Association of Plastic Surgeons of India. He also remains a permanent guest surgeon of Operation Smile Mission in Norfolk, USA and Advisor to Smile Train, USA.
Setting aside all of his accolades and awards, however, one thing is for sure: Dr Thomas is enjoying his profession and that is for the service of his fellow human beings.