Dr. Antia passed away on 26 June 2007 after a brief illness.
Noshir Hormasji Antia was born in a Parsi family in Mumbai on 8th February 1922. After schooling in Hubli and Mumbai, he completed his medical studies in 1945 at the Grant Medical College, Mumbai. He later went to England to qualify in surgery where he worked over a 9 year period absorbing skills under stalwarts such as Sir Harold Gillies, the father of modern plastic surgery, and A.B. Wallace, who had pioneered a radically new treatment for burns. Young and impressionable, Antia picked up not just the technique but an attitude of the mind.
He returned to India in 1956 where the opportunity for practicing plastic surgery came in the form of stigmatised leprosy patients living at Kondhwa. The primitive conditions merely stoked his creative genius. With no assistant, anaesthetist or antibiotics, and with patients providing illumination through atorchlight, many procedures for correction of facial deformities were undertaken. A negative face mask of a leprosy patient sent to The Wellcome Trust Museum in London was instrumental in his being selected for the Hunterian Professorship.
In 1958, he established the first plastic surgical centre in Western India at the J.J. Group of Hospitals in Mumbai which was later renamed as the Tata Department of Plastic. It is now widely acknowledged that the first microvascular surgical flap which revolutionised reconstructive surgical procedures was undertaken by him at this hospital. In the U.S.A he became best known for his procedure for ear repair using chondrocutaneous flaps. Realising the futility of restricting to correction of deformities in a stigmatising condition such as leprosy, the work of the department was extended to economic and social aspects of rehabilitation. His crowning achievement was however the integration of treatment of leprosy patients in the general ward of a public hospital. He was also instrumental in convincing Professor Lechat and the organising committees of the International Leprosy Congress in 1984 to introduce for the first time a session on the social aspects of leprosy.
Dr. Antia established the post-graduate research laboratory at the J.J. Hospitals so that he was not restricted to clinical research. He identified the index branch of radial cutaneous (IRC) nerve as an ideal one for study in leprosy. The small area innervated by the IRC nerve lends itself to total biopsy and permits the correlation of clinical, functional and structural parameters within the same nerve. Using the electron microscope, he demonstrated significant changes that could not be discerned by the light microscope.
The work at the post-graduate laboratory at the J.J. Hospital was the forerunner to the establishment of The Foundation for Medical Research (FMR) in Mumbai in 1974.
The flexibility that he instilled in young scientists provided the goad to the diversification of the Foundation’s work in later years into viable long-term research programmes in multi- drug resistant tuberculosis and preclinical evaluation of medicinal plants for primary health care both of which are not only scientifically exciting but relevant to this country’s needs.
His interests in the social aspects of medicine paradoxically began in 1970, when he perceived a burning problem of reaching medical and healthcare services to marginalised rural populations. This became his foremost mission which he served through the Foundation for Research in Community Health, founded by him also, in 1974. In the last decade he painted a far wider picture, linking health care to overall development, good governance and human rights. As one of the prime players in the consolidation of the National Rural Health Mission of the Government of India, he played a pivotal role in ensuring the representation of cumulative NGO experiences for shaping the Mission.
Dr. Antia is survived by his wife Arnie, daughter Avan and son Rustom and their families.
Surgeon extraordinaire, renowned public health activist, a noted biomedical researcher and a founder of over 15 national associations, Dr. Antia had to his credit over 350 multidimensional publications and five books. This year’s end will see the publication of his memoirs. Many honours came his way for surgery such as the Hunterian, the Malinac and the Fellowship of the American College of Surgeons. He was elected to the highest scientific bodies in India and the nation bestowed on him the Padma Sri in 1980 and the G.D. Birla International Award for Humanism in 1994.
Mr. Jamshyd Godrej, Ms. Arnie Antia and Ms Srilatha Batliwalla at the 2009 book release of Dr Noshir Antia’s biography
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