On the morning of August 3, Dr. Yohan Koralage stopped his vehicle on the side of Galaha Road to answer a phone call from a fellow medical officer
He was to discuss the treatment process for one of his patients and expected the phone call to last at least 30 minutes. No matter the circumstances, patients were always a priority for Dr. Koralage. Little did he imagine that circumstances would be this grim, for making the simple mistake of parking his vehicle on the wrong side of town.
A few minutes after parking his vehicle the doctor was approached by a couple of young men who informed him - albeit offensively -that he could not park his vehicle within the university premises. Dr. Koralage politely explained that he was a doctor attached to the Anuradhapura Hospital and he would need a few minutes to attend to his patient’s needs. The young men after threatening Dr. Koralage walked away, only to return with a few other friends, who suddenly attacked the doctor.
“Out of the blue, they started to attack me. I was forced to the ground and beaten up, even after identifying myself. I didn’t know that I couldn’t park my vehicle there,” laments Dr. Koralage. The doctor suffered serious injuries to his head, neck and arm as a result of the assault. He was admitted to the Kandy General Hospital and later transferred to the National Hospital, Colombo. On a slow path to recovery after the appalling incident, Dr. Koralage says he is still in disbelief of what transpired that morning.
“What shocks me the most is how they kept on pounding me. I told these men that I was a frequent visitor to the university. I told them that I was a doctor at the Anuradhapura Hospital and that I was simply attending to a patient’s need. I also told them that I intended to drive away after the call. Despite all this, they kept on thrashing me, deaf to my pleading,” Dr. Koralage recalls. The specialist Neurosurgeon is no stranger to Peradeniya University. He was in fact visiting a plot of land in Hindagala, where he was building a house, when the incident occurred.
Dr. Koralage says he lost his consciousness a few times during the merciless assault. “They were patient until I regained consciousness only to beat me up again and again. I begged them to stop. Fortunately, security officers attached to the university came to the scene and stopped the assault,” he recalls. However instead of assisting the severely injured victim, the security officers had removed the doctor from the university grounds. “They chased me away from the university. I got into the vehicle, which they had also thrashed and damaged at that point. Somehow I drove towards the construction site, where the masons I have employed came to my help,” recalls Dr. Koralage.
Operations of the Neurosurgical and Neuro-trauma units of the hospitals in North Central, Northern and Upper Eastern provinces came to a standstill following the brutal assault of the Neurosurgeon. Dr. Koralage oversaw the neurosurgery and neuro-trauma units in two key provinces while he was also in charge of neurosurgery in North Central Province. Moves are underway to appoint a professional to replace Dr. Koralage and assist his recovery, sources reveal.
Dr. Himantha Atukorale, a colleague of Dr. Koralage, speaking to the says the absence of a skilled professional poses a great risk to patients of the area. “A person with a simple fall or accident may suffer head injuries. There are also routine procedures for treating cancers and tumours. Dr. Koralage monitored a large amount of work and he should be physically present at these units to function smoothly. Without his guidance, no major surgeries are done in these hospitals,” explains Dr. Atukorale.
“Who is responsible for all the patients whose lives are endangered by the absence of such a highly skilled surgeon like Dr. Koralage?” he questions. “The injuries Dr. Koralage suffered as a result of this brutal assault, especially to the head, neck and arms, have disabled him to such a degree that performing an intense duty as a neurosurgeon would not be a possibility right now,” opines Dr. Atukorale. Interestingly only 13 neurosurgeons are serving in Sri Lanka and Dr. Koralage is one.
“Dates for surgeries are allocated three or four months in advance. All routine surgeries have been postponed since the incident and all cases of head and spinal injuries are being transferred to hospitals in Colombo or Kandy,” he adds.
One of Sri Lanka’s rare Specialist neuro surgeons Dr. Yohan Koralage manhandled near Galaha Road
Although Dr. Koralage is recovering miraculously from this near-death experience, he is suffering from a neurological deficit in his right arm. Severe numbness and the inability to do certain fine movements with his hand indicate that he won’t be able to perform any surgeries for a considerable time.
Whether the students of the University of Peradeniya allegedly involved in this incident intended to cause grievous harm or not, they are now facing serious charges of assault. Peradeniya Police HQI Chief Inspector M. Caldera said two suspects had been arrested on August 7 and were produced in court on August 16.
“Two suspects were arrested so far with the help of the university authorities. We have received information that 6 more suspects were involved in this incident. Their short names have been obtained and we are in the process of obtaining their personal details and addresses from the university. They will be arrested as soon as we receive the information from the Vice Chancellor,” explained the law enforcement officer.
Vice Chancellor of Peradeniya University Prof. Upul Dissanayake said that the university has offered assistance in identifying the perpetrators in this incident. “As we have been informed, the surgeon was harassed and assaulted, while he was travelling across the university, by a group of students. Dr. Koralage himself has attempted to inform me of this incident,” Prof. Dissanayake said.
“As of now we have only two parties as witnesses; the first being the victim and the two security officers attached to the university. Fortunately the doctor has managed to take several photographs from his mobile phone and accordingly two students were identified and arrested,” the Vice Chancellor detailed.
“This is no less than an act of terrorism. As we have assisted in identifying the two students, we expect the Police and the courts to do the needful. As the two students and the security officers are unable to conceal evidence in a court of law, we expect they will co-operate in identify anyone else involved in this dreadful incident,” he said.
The Vice Chancellor affirmed that the said group of students was found occupying the university premises, whilst the university was closed due to student protests. “Following the police inquiry the university will conduct an inquiry of its own to verify these details. We have offered our co-operation and hope that justice will be served in no time,”the Vice Chancellor said.
The sole neurosurgeon serving one-fifth of the country has been irrationally attacked leaving his illustrious career in uncertainty. Patients with complex and crucial medical needs are left without a choice. An all this has happened as a result of the exploits of a group of students allowed to run around executing their own whims and fancies, at the expense of another’s life. Reports of assault and harassment by university students are far too commonplace. How far is too far?
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