Head of the Department of plastic and reconstructive surgery at CMC, Vellore
"At the age of eight Prema Dhanraj was burnt when the stove burst on which she was making coffee.
Admitted to Christian Medical College Hospital (CMCH), Vellore, with 50 per cent burns. Her mother prayed to God "If you save my child, I vow to dedicate her to the service of your people. I will make her a doctor and work in this same hospital." Prema survived. Renowned surgeon, Dr. L.B.M. Joseph, reconstructed every inch of Prema's face. Prema returned to Bangalore to resume school after six months in the hospital. Her scarred face attracted attention, school was never the same again. Completed high school privately. "My family had hidden all the mirrors in the house. Only after a year I happened to catch a reflection of my face in a mirror. I cried. I was angry. I threw tantrums. My mother waited patiently for my tears to dry." Then she told Prema, "This is your face and you will have to live with it. No one can change that. But what you do with your life is in your hands and only you can change it." It was a hard lesson to learn. And it took her a long time to grasp its meaning. "I barely scraped through my Class 10 exams," Prema reminisces. "But the fact that I cleared my exams gave me immense confidence." She obtained a B.Sc. degree from the Arts and Science College, Bangalore. Prema admits, "Those were the most difficult years of my life ? academically and socially." Between 1965 and 1971, Prema underwent 14 reconstructive surgeries before she put an end to it. "It was time for me to concentrate on other things in life." Obtained her MBBS degree from Hubli Medical College and in 1980; went to work at CMCH, Vellore, under Joseph. It was a defining moment in both their lives.Specialized in Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery from CMC, Ludhiana, and returned to CMCH in 1989 as a surgeon, thus fulfilling her mother's promise to God. Prema is known as one of the most successful surgeons in the medical fraternity, with a success rate of 99 per cent. Received many awards. She is helping set up the first burns unit in Ethiopia, which has the maximum number of burns victims in the world. Prema was invited by the Ethiopian and Norwegian authorities to train doctors in Ethiopia and she trained Ethiopia's first plastic surgeon. She has also pioneered a programme in collaboration with U.S. ? the "Smile Train" project ? where all patients with cleft lip and cleft palate will be given free treatment at CMC, Vellore. Embarked on an ambitious project called Agni Raksha - an organization that would treat and help burns victims in India. Prema's advice to all those who feel defeated in life: Stop comparing yourself with others. Be willing to face reality and move on in life. Develop a cheerful attitude. Be humble and trust in God. Then sit back and enjoy life."
Excerpts from: http://www.hindu.com/mag/2005/08/21/stories/2005082100220400.htm