Joe Tjandra

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Colorectal surgeon
5 February 1957-18 June 2007

Joe Janwar Tjandra died after a ten month battle with bowel cancer. He was only 49 years when diagnosed.

He was extraordinary and amazingly talented in the field of colorectal surgery.

Joe was born in Palembang, Indonesia in 1957 where his father was a trader. He was the youngest of seven children of whom four became doctors. He moved to Singapore for his secondary education and where he first learnt to speak English. He then came to Melbourne on a student visa to complete years 11 and 12 at Mentone Grammar School where he was dux of the school.

He studied medicine at University of Melbourne and the Royal Melbourne Hospital, finishing near the top in his final year.

In 1982 he was intern in Mr Alan Cuthbertson's Colorectal Unit at the Royal Melbourne hospital. His early surgical training was under Professor Les Hughes in Cardiff, Wales where he obtained his FRCS England and FRCSP Glasgow.

Joe returned to Australia in 1987 and did a period of clinical research with Professor Ian McKenzie at the Research Centre for Cancer and Transplantation University of Melbourne. They worked on monoclonal antibodies hoping to target toxins specifically to cancer cells. Ironically one of his patients had been the Headmaster of Mentone Grammar. He and Joe presented the research on the current TV programme Quantum. It caused considerable interest at the time. He was awarded a Doctor of Medicine from the University of Melbourne for this research. The following year as Surgical Registrar in the Colorectal Unit he obtained the FRACS. Further surgical training followed, Professor John Wong in Hong Kong and two years with Dr Victor Fazio at the Cleveland Clinic USA considered one of the foremost centres in colorectal surgery in the world at present. Before returning to Australia he had one further year with Professor Les Hughes in Cardiff.

On his return to Australia in 1993 he was appointed Colorectal Surgeon to the Royal Melbourne Hospital and Consultant Colorectal Surgeon to the Royal Women's Hospital in 1997. Later in 2002 he was made Associate Professor of Surgery University of Melbourne and in 2005 co-ordinator of the Epworth Gastrointestinal Oncology Centre. Joe worked at a frenetic pace in his clinical work, research, publications and assisting Trainees in their development; he developed a huge private practice centred around Epworth, Melbourne Private and Cotham Private Hospitals.

Joe published over 150 peer reviewed scientific papers, has written 70 book chapters and edited 6 books. His pride and joy was the Text Book of Surgery now in the 3rd edition. This book is the prescribed surgical text in most medical schools in Australia and New Zealand.

Joe was frequently a visiting lecturer/professor especially in the Asian Pacific Region but also in the US and Europe. He gave over 200 presentations at surgical meetings.

Joe promoted research with the surgical Trainees at the Royal Melbourne Hospital and supervised five post graduate students leading to higher degrees.

Joe was appointed Associate Professor of Surgery by the University of Melbourne for his contribution to surgery in particular the development of innovative techniques in colorectal surgery. He became an international authority on sacral nerve stimulation for faecal incontinence, PTQ® implants and laparoscopic colorectal surgery.

Joe served as editor of the ANZ Journal of Surgery for years and on the editorial board of a number of international journals. Joe convened and organised successful international meetings in colorectal surgery most years since 1994. His last meeting was in February this year just four months before his death.

He apparently only slept three or four hours per night. He was a very focused driven person and the pursuit of his career was his life. He aimed high and got a lot of satisfaction with the many awards and plaques he received.

Most of his awards were international and it is somewhat sad that his immense talents were not better recognised, supported and utilised by his colleagues in Melbourne. Patience and tolerance unfortunately were not Joe's virtues but endurance and perseverance were. He was single mindedly concerned about the care of sick patients and making their lives better. Unfortunately this resulted in a considerable animosity from his colleagues especially surgeons but also hospital administrators. Joe's impatience and intolerance were the main catalysts but part was due to the 'tall poppy syndrome' so common in Australia where persons who appear to be getting ahead are held back in the name of equity but in reality resulting in mediocrity.

Dr Victor Fazio Head of Colorectal Surgery at the Cleveland Clinic USA writes "Joe was a quintessential surgeon/scientist. There were none to equal his enthusiasm and native talent. If ever a person was a born surgeon it was Joe".

Dr Jeffrey Milsom Professor of Surgery Cornell University New York writes "Joe's life was about intensity. He was one of the hardest workers I have ever encountered. In the firmament of Australian Surgeons there will be a very bright and intense star burning, all too briefly, which is the Tjandra Star"

Joe leaves behind his wife Yvonne and children Douglas, Bradley and Caitlin. He was an amazing surgeon/scientist the like of which we are unlikely to see again.

Campbell Penfold FRACS

 

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