Westmead Hospital legend Dr Jay Chandra is making way for “younger, smarter and better” doctors after 35 years leading the hospital’s ophthalmology department.
Dr Chandra has been head of vitreoretinal surgery since the department opened in 1985, excited to join the team at what was then Australia’s largest tertiary hospital.
He performed his final surgery on Tuesday last week, and in a trademark act of humility, opted not to inform his colleagues until the morning of his last day.
They scrambled to present him with a farewell card filled with well wishes that he admitted brought tears to his eyes.
“I have been here long enough and I want to give way for younger, smarter and better ophthalmologists than me,” Dr Chandra said.
“It has filled me with a vacuum. I was quite depressed on Wednesday morning, which my wife assures me is natural to feel after leaving a big part of my life.
“It’s nice not to be on call. I don’t need to have my phone on me all the time, including when mowing the lawn. It is a relief but I feel like part of my life has left me.”
Dr Chandra was trained under the guidance of the renowned late ophthalmologist Fred Hollows, and after completing his studies, went on to follow in his footsteps.
He has worked tirelessly to restore vision to thousands of patients, not only in Australia but also with annual trips to India and Fiji, helping those who would otherwise not have access to high quality eye surgery.
“I’ve worked mostly with public patients in my career. I don’t distinguish between my private and public patients,” Dr Chandra said.
“My fondest memories are saving the sight of patients with retinal detachment – to see the joy on their face when their vision is restored. I think I gave something back to humanity.
“I also love to hear reports from fellows I have trained all over the world, to hear them doing well and their gratitude.”
For his work both in Australia and overseas, Dr Chandra was made a Member of the Order of Australia in 2016.
Scrub scout nurse May Mei Chun Ng has worked for Dr Chandra for over 20 years, including accompanying him on five humanitarian trips to Fiji, and said she is honoured to have worked alongside such an amazing doctor.
“I am very sad to see Dr Chandra leaving. He only told me last week that he was retiring and I told him ‘no you can’t go’,” May Mei said.
“The way he interacts with his patients and the way he builds relationships with them and their families is beautiful to witness
“Sometimes he would be working 11-12 hour days and he would never complain. His spirit and commitment radiates through the room and makes us all have the same attitude towards patient care.”
Westmead Hospital anaesthetist Dr Freda Vosdoganis said it was “a great privilege” to have worked with Dr Chandra since 2004.
“In this time, I have watched him operating tirelessly on the most difficult, challenging eye cases both elective and emergency,” Dr Vosdoganis said.
“Dr Chandra has been at the forefront of research and teaching, most importantly establishing the Vitreoretinal Fellowship Training Program at Westmead Hospital in 1995.
“He has performed voluntary work in India and Fiji every year since 2002, operating on the most poor and underprivileged, as well as inspiring other surgeons, anaesthetists, nurses and allied health care workers to join him.
“Yet despite being on the world stage, Dr Chandra remains incredibly gracious and humble, never seeking the glory and limelight. He is truly one-of-a-kind and for this he will dearly be missed.”
Dr Chandra is not quite ready to hang up the scalpel – he will continue in his private practice several days a week, and is exploring a non-paid return to Westmead Hospital as an honorary medical officer to assist with further development of his beloved unit.
“I don’t want to break that hospital bond until I go into the coffin,” Dr Chandra said.