Samuel Ghouralal (27th Feb 1925-6th Apr 1991)

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Dr Samuel Ghouralal rose to fame by virtue of his dedication to a profession that was non-existent in Trinidad and Tobago when he began to practise. He single-handedly established neurosurgery in Trinidad and Tobago, and, as he built the country’s capacity in that field, he adopted modern innovations to improve the treatment and diagnosis of patients’ disorders.

Samuel Frank Clarendon Ghouralal was born on 27th February, 1925 in Guapo, Trinidad, where he attended the village primary school. He began his secondary education at Naparima College and completed it at St. Mary’s College, before going to Canada to further his studies. In Montreal, he pursued his Bachelor of Medicine and Surgery (MDCM) at the Medical School of McGill University, graduating in 1949. He was certified in neurosurgery in the state of New York in 1956, and returned to Trinidad that year, ignoring intense dissuasion from a senior official at the Ministry of Health in his home country, who advised that neurology was for “New York, Baltimore, Montreal or London.”

Dr Ghouralal found no immediate employment because there were no openings at the local hospitals. However, he fervently lent his skills and expertise to his fellow practitioners, performing eight operations with limited instruments in the first two weeks of his return. Classmate, Dr Carl Lee, commended Ghouralal’s choice to persist, helped secure interviews for him, and gave him a place to stay. Dr Winston Mahabir, another classmate, used his influence to publicise his colleague’s expertise in a field that was “crying out for exploration.”

Around that time, a relative of the Minister of Health suffered a diving accident that resulted in a neck fracture and partial paralysis. The boy’s family insisted that Dr Ghouralal operate, which he did, and he also guided the hospital staff in the boy’s post-operative care. A full recovery resulted and the impressed Minister instructed the Director of Medical Services to create a post for Ghouralal.

Dr Ghouralal was assigned part-time to both the Port-of-Spain General Hospital and San Fernando General Hospital. The hours were overwhelming, sleep was rare, and the financial reward was minimal. When Dr Mahabir became the Minister of Health later in 1956, Dr Ghouralal was then given a full-time position. He ensured that the departments of neurosurgery had the best equipment and trained nurses, thus increasing their efficiency and reputation.

Dr Ghouralal’s renown as the country’s only neurosurgeon steadily grew and there was even a calypso about him. The pinnacle of his fame came in 1957, when he excised a brain tumour from an American soldier. The patient’s spectacular recovery enabled him to be walking again within two days! Ghouralal’s reputation spread across the region and he was soon being called to St. Vincent, St. Lucia, Barbados and Guyana to perform operations and give advice.

With budding neurosurgeons joining the service, Dr Ghouralal became the country’s Senior Neurosurgeon. The training programme he initiated within the hospital gained the recognition of the Royal College of Surgeons in England. Because of his knowledge and experience, he earned the nickname of “The Guru.” Dr Ghouralal went on to serve as President of the Medical Association in 1964, and was assistant Hospital Medical Director between 1970 and 1982, finally retiring in 1985.

For his sterling contribution, the Trinidad and Tobago Medical Association presented him with a Scroll of Honour in 1980. In 1989, he received the Chaconia Medal (Gold), the nation’s second highest award.

Dr Samuel “The Guru” Ghouralal passed away on 6th April, 1991 at the age of 66.