On September 16, 2017 my dear friend Sarath Abeykoon passed away unexpectedly. I was numbed with shock and grief as I had corresponded with him by email only 5 days ago. I was in Kyoto, Japan attending the World Congress of Neurology. Sarath had trained in Japan and was delighted I was visiting some of the places he had been to. He was a vegetarian, did not smoke and was a teetotaller. He was certainly not overweight and there was no family history of heart disease. The news of his passing away following a heart attack was yet another reality check on the unreliability of life.
He and I were friends during a long journey which began in 1959 when we entered S.Thomas’s College, Mt. Lavinia, together.
His parents, Amara, a Senior Geologist and mother Pauline, were well- known to my family. They were from a neighbouring town, Boralesgamuwa, while we were in Nedimala, Dehiwala. Sarath’s father had firm views on character building, hence he was boarded at S.Thomas’s College at the tender age of 7.
Sarath participated in almost every sport and represented his school in First XI hockey. He also represented the school in basketball, athletics and was the vice captain.
During his school career he excelled academically winning many prizes and became the Head Prefect of S.Thomas’. He went on to win the Victoria Jubilee Gold Medal for the Best All Round Student in his final year at school. I was with him right through his 12 years at S.Thomas’.
He and I then entered Colombo Medical College and University of Ceylon together in 1972 and were batchmates until we qualified as doctors in 1976. At Medical College, Sarath continued where he left off at S.Thomas’s, excelling at work and participating in all the social activities as well.
A colleague remembered how the university was heading for a strike which would disrupt final year exams for many faculties as hotheads breathed fire.
Sarath decided on a career in oncology. He trained in Sri Lanka’s premier cancer institute at Maharagama. He went for his higher training to Japan and returned to Sri Lanka to work as a cancer specialist within the public health system. What he achieved in those years at Mahragama and later in private, is now stuff of legend, becoming perhaps more known only after his sad demise. He devoted his life to the development of cancer treatment and eventually became the President of the College of Oncologists in Sri Lanka.
Sarath was of diminutive stature, gentle, unassuming and humble to a fault and always the perfect gentleman. He was charming and likeable and could cope equally comfortably in any group of society.
At a time when Sri Lanka’s medical profession is being increasingly viewed with unhappiness and skepticism, that financial gain at the expense of a quality service is seen as the driving force, Sarath was again a shining example for the medical profession, patients and society at large. He exemplified the goodness of a committed, compassionate physician who encompassed the real meaning and tenets of the Hippocratic Oath, the guiding light through the ages for the Noble Profession.
As mentioned above, I have had the rare privilege of having had a ringside seat to such an inspiring and exemplary life. He was a dear friend and the groomsman at my wedding to my wife, Priyani.
Sarath led an exemplary Buddhist life, devoting the richness of his life to help others less fortunate.
Simply stated, he was one of Sri Lanka’s rarest gems.
May his journey through Samsȧra be short.
Nothing beautiful in this world
Is ever really lost
All things beloved
Live in our hearts
Dr. Deepal Lecamwasam