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Year : 2016  |  Volume : 7  |  Issue : 3  |  Page : 231-233  

Dr. Thekkepat Gopinathan (1931–2016)


Date of Web Publication13-May-2016

Correspondence Address:
Paramoo Sugathan

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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/2229-5178.182357

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How to cite this article:
Sugathan P, Martin AM. Dr. Thekkepat Gopinathan (1931–2016). Indian Dermatol Online J 2016;7:231-3

How to cite this URL:
Sugathan P, Martin AM. Dr. Thekkepat Gopinathan (1931–2016). Indian Dermatol Online J [serial online] 2016 [cited 2022 Jan 23];7:231-3. Available from: https://www.idoj.in/text.asp?2016/7/3/231/182357

On April 13, 2016, the dermatology fraternity in India woke up to a shocking news. The senior most teacher in dermatovenereology from Kerala, Dr. Thekkepat Gopinathan, left for his heavenly abode. It was a somber day in the annals of dermatology in India. He was a great teacher, a brilliant academician, an astute clinician, an erudite scholar, and above all, a popular practitioner. His demise has left a great void in the field of dermatology in India. He was ailing for a while, off and on, mostly from respiratory distress. However, all through his illness, he never lost his zest for knowledge. He loved meeting old friends and making new ones. He made his presence felt on social media as well as academic groups such as ACAD_IADVL yahoo groups of Indian Association of Dermatologists, Venereologists and Leprologists (IADVL). He persisted in his endeavors to participate in the academic discussions over the internet forums even as his health failed and his vision blurred.

It was his visionary zeal that marked the birth of the Indian Dermatology Online Journal. During casual chats on ACAD_IADVL, he mooted the idea of a journal in electronic format which would stimulate and provide platform primarily to practitioners for reporting interesting clinical cases. The journal was meant to represent the rare and rich clinical material available in the Indian subcontinent.[1],[2]

He was born on March 21, 1931, to Kolady Madhava Menon and Thekkeppat Chinnammu Amma in Thrissur, Kerala, India. He did his schooling at Thrissur and then went on to complete his college education from Victoria College, Palakkad. In 1953, he completed his graduation from Madras University.

Dr. Gopinathan was very fond of sports and an ardent lover of soccer. One day, during his college days at Madras Medical College, he met Dr. R. V. Rajam in the hostel corridor while returning from a game. It was Prof. R. V. Rajam, the world renowned Venereologist, Dean of Madras Medical College, and Dr. Gopinathan's teacher who asked him to join the All India Institute of Venereology at Madras as a postgraduate student in 1954 after he had completed his internship at the Madras Medical College. Rajam said two things that enabled Gopinathan to make up his mind very quickly – first, venereology was the only postgraduate specialty that was offering a princely sum of Rs. 150 as monthly stipend to postgraduates, and more importantly, Rajam anticipated the reorganization of the states and told Gopinathan that he would get a rare opportunity to set up a new department in a new medical college in his home state of Kerala. The words turned out to be prophetic.

He was an excellent student, had the admiration of his teachers, and always completed the assigned projects on time.

After acquiring a Diploma in Venereology, Gopinathan joined the District Government Hospital, Ernakulam, in 1965 as a skin and venereal disease (VD) specialist. The regular night duty helped him to learn practical medicine, surgery, and obstetrics and gynecology from the leading specialists of Ernakulam.

A year later in 1958, he had an opportunity to join Trivandrum Medical College under Dr. Ambadi Bhaskara Menon (after whom the IADVL Ambadi oration is named), who was the Head of the Dermatology Department at the Trivandrum Medical College. He was in search of an energetic young man to follow his footsteps in the specialty. Dr. Gopinathan was thus given the post of clinical tutor in dermatology in Trivandrum Medical College, the first time in any medical college in Kerala.

Gopinathan was soon selected by the Indian Medical Association (IMA, New Delhi) for a 3-year residency training in dermatology in the USA. At the University of Pennsylvania, he was guided by renowned masters such as Dr. Hermann Beerman (co-author of Modern Clinical Syphilology), Dr. D. M. Pillsbury, Dr. A. M. Kligman, and Dr. W. B. Shelly. He was also guided by Drs. Eugene van Scott and Stephen Rothman. This education not only enhanced his knowledge of dermatology but also stood him in good stead in his professional career as a teacher in dermatology.

Gopinathan did a significant piece of research work on the “Physiology of the Skin with special reference to Vitiligo” under his Supervisor Dr. Eugene J Van Scott (NIH) and was awarded a Master of Science (MS) degree in 1961. This study, one of the earliest research projects on autologous human vitiliginous skin transplant, was published in the Archives of Dermatology in 1965.

Gopinathan returned to India and joined the Calicut Medical College as an Assistant Professor in 1961. This was the first Dermatology Department in the state headed by a full-time qualified dermatovenereologist. In the meantime in 1961, Dr. Gopinathan married Rema, and the couple was blessed with two sons and a daughter.

The early days in Calicut Medical College were difficult indeed. There was a single bench for patients to sit on, and a chair and a stool for the doctors. Besides Dr. Gopinathan, there was a lone house surgeon. The bench had to be converted from time to time into an examination couch for patients to lie down!!!

From this basic position, the department grew from strength to strength. With the help of dedicated colleagues, Dr. Gopinathan was able to raise the department to an all India level fit to start postgraduate studies.

While in Calicut Medical College, he went on to be trained at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, New Delhi, under Prof. K. C. Khandari. This was necessary, although he had secured an MS degree from the USA, as the Medical Council of India did not recognize foreign degrees and made it mandatory that all medical college faculties above the post of Assistant Professor must possess a postgraduate degree in dermatology from India. Under his leadership, the department grew to become one of the finest departments in India with notable academicians such as Prof. Sugathan, Dr. Pavithran, Dr. Laxmi V. Nair, and Dr. Najeeba Riyaz. He fondly remembered the services of these academicians and Dr. P. P. Paily, Dr. Cynthia Papally, Late Dr. P. A. Sarojini, and Dr. P. Ramachandran Nair, who worked tirelessly to build the department.

In 1972 for the first time in Kerala, DVD and MD courses were started in Calicut. Dr. Gopinathan always regarded this as the crowning glory of his career. For everyone concerned, this was one of their proudest achievements. Gopinathan was also appointed as Hon. Advisor and Convener in STD to Government of Kerala and Secretary of Health as a member. During this period, skin and VD clinics were opened in all district hospitals.

He was influential in academic circles and could contact giants in Indian dermatology personally. He would use his personal rapport with them to sort and discuss clinical problems and help patients. He also used his good offices to get the government to nurture the Dermatology Department in Calicut. With more than five decades of service as a teacher and consultant, he retired as the Director and Professor of Dermatology at Calicut Medical College in 1986.

He always fought to give dermatology and venereology its due. He often said, “Dermatology is a specialty in its own right and not a tail end of medicine.” He stressed upon the need to present cases and actively participated in discussions, in physician meetings. He felt that dermatologists are physicians first and then specialists. He also cajoled young specialists to take up dermatosurgery and lamented the loss of dermatologic surgery to plastic surgeons.

When I (Dr. Sugathan) joined Dr. Gopinathan as provisional tutor in dermatology, he was keen to know if I was serious about the subject. When he realized I was indeed interested, he handed me a copy of “Common skin diseases by Roxburgh” and asked me to spot a diagnosis. It was a case of discoid lupus erythematosus which I had diagnosed as vitiligo, and thus, my fascination for the subject started.

In 1986, Dr. Gopinathan retired from Calicut Medical College in 1986. Even several years after his retirement, Dr. Gopinathan continued to be worried about the state of undergraduate teaching in dermatovenereology in medical colleges and often spoke of the need for reorganizing the teaching curriculum and schedules.

He was the recipient of many honors including Dr. Ambadi Oration Award (1980), Non-Resident Fellow – American Academy of Dermatology (1983), Founder Fellow of IMA Academy of Medical Specialties (1982), Fellow of Madras Medical College (1985), Best Doctor Award Calicut IMA (1997), Prof. KC Khandari Lifetime Achievement Award by National IADVL (2001), and Prof. Sehgal Award for Excellence in Dermatology (2009).

He was the Founder President of the Kerala Branch of IADVL in 1982. He held the post of National Secretary and President of IADVL. He was closely associated with the IMA and was instrumental in starting the IMA Academy of Specialties. He was also instrumental in organizing groups of dermatologists (district-based) for both social interactions as well as exchanging academic ideas. He was the founder of such a club, The Malabar Dermatology Club, to bring together practitioners from the five northern districts of Kerala and academia from the medical colleges. He had mooted the idea of special interest groups' way back in the 1980s, with an aim of conducting in-depth studies on specialized subject. Such academic endeavors have now become popular all over India.

With the loss of Dr. T. Gopinathan, dermatology has lost a guiding lamp, a mentor, an academic giant, a great visionary dermatologist, and a friend of people of all ages.

May his soul rest in peace.

   References Top

Thekkepat G. Reminiscences. Indian Dermatol Online J 2010;1:53.  Back to cited text no. 1
[PUBMED]  Medknow Journal  
Verma SB. From the virtual desk of the editor. Indian Dermatol Online J 2010;1:2.  Back to cited text no. 2
[PUBMED]  Medknow Journal  


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