Very rarely do we find an opportunity to find ourselves in the midst of a life-altering phase, something that could bring forth changes and improvements for generations to come. However, the people of Silchar are lucky to witness something similar. Silchar, the second largest city in Assam, has seen tremendous growth in multiple areas over the past few years, and the same is true in the medical field as well. The start of Dr Sambuddha Dhar’s stint as the first neurosurgeon of Silchar is as revolutionary as any for the people of the region.
To understand the relevance of having one of the best neurosurgeons of Northeast here in Silchar we need to understand the status-quo that existed previously. Despite being the second largest city in the state and the practical and geographical link to neighbouring states like Manipur, Mizoram and Agartala, there was a distinct lack of state-of-the-art multi-speciality health care set up. Over the past few years, the state of testing facilities has improved thus improving the ability of doctors to diagnose conditions more accurately. There was still a dearth of skill set, especially in rare surgical super specialisations like neurosurgery. This meant that patients from the region had to travel to Guwahati, Kolkata or further for neurological problems, at times even in cases that required urgent medical attention. The addition of neurosurgeon Dr Sambuddha Dhar, has alleviated a lot of those issues for the people of Barak Valley and the surrounding regions.
Before going into greater detail about the life and work of Dr. Sambuddha Dhar, one of the best neurosurgeons in Assam, a look at the snapshot of his accomplishments needs to be evaluated. For the first time in 60 years, he was the first neurosurgeon to join the Silchar Medical College and Hospital (SMCH). He became the first neurosurgeon to complete a brain surgery in Silchar. He was also the one who started the first neurosurgical OPD in the region. He also successfully conducted the first brain tumour operation in Silchar. While there is a lot more that needs to be added to the list of accolades that Dr Dhar has accomplished just in his short stint in the region, even a cursory glance at his achievements is awe inspiring.
Born to Mr. Sunirmal Dhar and Mrs. Santa Dhar, Dr. Sambuddha was on track to achieve greatness from the very early stages. Having completed his schooling from Ramakrishna Mission Vidyalaya in Narendrapur, Kolkata, he completed his MBBS from Jawaharlal Institute of Postgraduate Medical Education & Research (JIPMER) among the top students of his class. He then went on to secure his postgraduate degree from the same medical institute. He went on for further specialisation in neurosurgery by completing his M.Ch. from Institute of Medical Sciences, Benaras Hindu University, Varanasi. He first worked as a Consultant and then as the Head Neurosurgeon at the Ramkrishna Mission Hospital in Varanasi. Since then he has been a leading contributor in the field of neurosurgery for several other institutions as well before deciding to come to Silchar.
His arrival to Silchar as the foremost neurosurgeon was just as historic as his contributions to the practice in the region have proven to be. The Assam State Cabinet under the leadership of Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma, on September 2021, had directly approved the appointment of Dr Dhar to the SMCH. According to media reports, the Cabinet statement on his appointment read, “The cabinet has decided to appoint Dr Sambuddha Dhar as a neurosurgeon at Silchar Medical College and Hospital.” However, this appointment was more significant than it appears at first glance. At the time of his appointment, he was offered a consultant position with a lucrative salary (estimated to be around Rs. 4 Lakhs) which was the highest amount offered to any doctor at the time. In fact, the salary was even greater than that of the Governor. But the interesting thing is, his dedication to working towards the neurological health care needs of the region was so great that he decided to give up the lucrative pay in order to take up a permanent position at the SMCH at a regular scale of pay. Sources close to him have made remarks about the choice stating that his goals had always been to dig in his roots here and build a neurosurgical ecosystem in the region from the ground up. His dedication to his work is also evidenced by the fact that when he landed in Silchar to take up his duties, he flew in with Rs 30 lakhs of his own instruments which were not available at the SMCH then. As a matter of fact, to date, he continues to use a lot of his own personal instruments for the operations that he performs. He didn’t wait for anyone to start his work and in fact, after his arrival in Silchar, he had already started to perform cases within one week of arrival.
It is this zeal towards building the ecosystem that can serve the neurological health care needs of the region that led him to form the first neurosurgical unit at SMCH. With the help of this unit, he has already been able to complete 100 neurosurgical procedures in Silchar. One can imagine the impact he has had, when media reports called just his appointment as a “Red-Letter Day” for the SMCH. Since then, if anything, his journey from his first surgery to completing his 100th have marked a streak of Red-Letter events not just for the SMCH but for the entire Barak Valley region. The interesting aspect to his contributions is that they have not gone un-remarked and unnoticed. Just a cursory search of his name of Facebook shows the flood of appreciation that he has received from the people of Silchar, his colleagues in the medical profession and most importantly, his patients that he treated right here in Silchar.
To take a moment out to understand the significance of these developments, it is important to understand these in the context of the lives that are being changed by Dr Dhar’s efforts. In January, 2022, Dr Dhar performed the first brain tumour surgery of Silchar. According to preliminary diagnosis, the patient was suffering from a malignant tumour which meant that the surgical process had to be started with some haste. Under the leadership of Dr Dhar, the neurosurgical team at SMCH performed what is known as a craniotomy. This is a procedure where in order to gain access to the brain, a part of the skull bone is removed to expose the brain. The bone flap, thus removed, is replaced after the surgery. Now, according to estimates offered by some who are in the know, this type of surgery, depending on the complexity and the type of institution, can cost anywhere between Rs. 2.5 lakhs and Rs. 8 lakhs. However, the patient in question was not in any financial position to come up with such an amount. However, being that the surgery was conducted at the SMCH, the patient did not have to pay any OT or surgeon fees for the surgery. Just this instance, showcases the importance of the work that Dr Dhar is doing. Prior to his arrival, patients would have had to spend thousands and lakhs just to get out of the region to a place, arrange transport and accommodation, just to have the issue appropriately diagnosed, let alone seeking treatment. Dr Dhar’s involvement and commitment to developing the neurosurgical capability in the region is not only bringing the cutting edge of the field to the region, but his association with the SMCH is making those treatments accessible to the general population. According to estimates published by a local daily, as of January 2022, he had already performed around 26 surgeries with an average estimated cost of Rs. 2 lakhs each. Considering that the costs are foregone at the SMCH, they estimated benefits worth Rs 52 lakhs for the region, in just the first few months, for the people of this region.
Now, with over a year of practice in the region under his belt, he has been able to see thousands of patients who would have had to go to Guwahati for even diagnosing the problems. The contribution of Dr Dhar, therefore, would soon, if not already, be immeasurable for the region. Having blazed a trail for others to follow, Dr Dhar, the first surgical super specialist to join the SMCH, is not keen on resting on his laurels. He next plans to build on his work and bring neuro intervention to Silchar. In his own words, he stated, “Trying to start cerebral angiography and neurointervention at SMCH soon for stroke patients of this valley. trying to implement what I said.it ll not be just first for smch but also for this zone as a whole,” on his Facebook profile. One of the stated goals for Dr Sambuddha Dhar has always been to create an ecosystem for holistic care in the field of neurology. The astonishing aspect has been the pace at which he has moved on with his plans while simultaneously seeing patients and performing surgeries every day.
Being the first in something can be a fulfilling feeling, but in an area like neurosurgery, where every decision made can impact the lives of others in every step of the way, being the first and setting the standards can also become a daunting task. The responsibility of being the first and only neurosurgeon, developing a team of highly competent surgeons and other health care staff, and seeing patients daily is already a big one. But when we add on the responsibility of looking after the administrative and logistical aspects of building up the ecosystem for the field by himself, the true scale of his endeavours can be understood. Those observing his actions and accomplishments in today’s Silchar might not always realise the magnitude of his contributions now, but if Dr Sambuddha Dhar is successful in his mission, in the years to come, he will certainly be known as the Father of Neurosurgery in Barak Valley or perhaps even the region.