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
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
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
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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