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Dr. TS Kanaka: Breaking Boundaries as Asia’s First Female Neurosurgeon

Indian women have broken several myths, including that they cannot compete and contribute to society and the household like their male counterparts. Indian women have endured several struggles that have repeatedly broken the male bastion. Embarked on a challenging journey in her life is a quintessential woman of India, Dr. TS Kanaka, who, with her lion-hearted willpower and exemplary courage, reached the epitome of glory and success.

Born in 1932, Dr. TS Kanaka is the first woman neurosurgeon in Asia. A connoisseur in performing chronic electrode implants in the brain, Dr. Kanaka has made several contributions to stereotactic surgery. After a life of surgeries and struggles, Dr. TS Kanaka had to cross many hurdles in her academic career. She had to face toilsome graduation days. Nevertheless, Dr. Kanaka sailed past every hurdle with equal poise and determination.

During those times, it was male-dominated, and getting a master’s degree in surgery was an uphill task. Women were not even given a chance to pursue higher studies in surgery. With all her grit, she applied, and after facing several odds, she was admitted to the master’s program in general surgery. Two other women were also admitted, along with Dr. TS Kanaka, based on their academic excellence. While one of the women became an anatomy professor, the other never practiced.

Even after her admission, her teachers did not allow TS Kanaka to watch emergencies as they were unwilling and hesitant to give her a knife or scalpel. It was heart-rending for Dr. Kanaka as the examiner would fail her every time she wrote her exam. Dr. TS Kanaka was given a pass in the MS examination on her 6th attempt, a toilsome journey. With extreme efforts, she completed her MS general surgery in the year 1963 and went on to serve the Indian Army as an officer-surgical specialist. Due to prolonged illness, she could not continue her journey with the Indian Army. After restoring her health, she returned to the Madras Medical College to join the neurosurgical wing. Dr. Kanaka’s prime aim was to become a neurosurgeon. The post of assistant to a surgeon came to her after arduous difficulties. She was fortunate enough when she was posted in place of another doctor. Dr. TS Kanaka formally became a neurosurgeon under the able guidance of Dr. Venugopal. Dr. Ramamurthy honed her skills which helped her become one of the first few women neurosurgeons in the world.

Her zeal for studies and passion for work inspired her to conduct deep neurosurgery research. She presented several research papers in the 1970s and 80s and attended medical conferences worldwide. Several researchers in the United States started scrutinizing and criticizing her academic papers. Even today, Dr. Kanaka is delivering lectures across the world.

Dr. TS Kanaka is an expert in brain simulation. She devoted her entire life to her medical profession. She has also been awarded a lifetime achievement award. She is known to have donated blood more than 139 times. Her name is in the Limca Book of Records for donating blood most times. Dr. Kanaka has undoubtedly achieved the rarest of rare feats. Her commendable efforts for society have been recognized all around the world. Dr. TS Kanaka is among the few women neurosurgeons who have paved a new path and set an example for several other women.

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