News Item in Sunday Island, 27 January 2017
A Sri Lanka-born cardiologist, Dr Kumar Gunawardane, has been bestowed the most prestigious award – CONSULTANT EMERITUS by The TOWNSVILLE HOSPITAL AND HEALTH SERVICE BOARD. The presentation was made by the Minister for Health, Queensland, Dr. Steven Miles at a glittering staff excellence award ceremony. This was attended by many local dignitaries including the state and federal parliamentarians and the Mayor of Townsville Cr Jenny Hill.
Dr Steven Miles also presented a floral bouquet to Mrs Shirani Gunawardane honouring her selfless contribution to her husband’s career. Dr Gunawardane’s initial cardiology training was with Dr Ivor Obeysekare and Dr N. Walloopillai at the General Hospital, Colombo. Subsequently, he worked as Registrar in the Newcastle-Upon-Tyne Regional Cardiac Service UK and the Prince Charles Hospital in Brisbane, the leading cardiothoracic institution in Queensland.
He assumed duties as Director of Medicine at the Townsville General Hospital in 1982. This is the premier public tertiary care facility in North Queensland and also the main teaching hospital for the James Cook University Medical School which is on site. He is an Adjunct Associate Professor of the JCU.
The citation was by Dr Ryan Schrale a young Interventional Cardiologist colleague.
Dr Gunawardane had a highly distinguished 33-year service to the Townsville Hospital and Health Service as a Consultant Physcian and Cardiologist. He demonstrated the highest levels of leadership and professionalism throughout his medical career including an 11-year tenure as Director of the Department of Medicine (1982-1993) and also four years as the Director of Cardiology (2002 -2006). He was also the Chair of Cardiac Services for part of this time. For many years he was a member of the Statewide Cardiac Advisory Committee.
Dr Gunawardane’s career has spanned decades of major advancement in the understanding of and treatment of cardiac disease; throughout this time he spearheaded introduction of modern cardiology at the Hospital. He staffed the Coronary Care Unit single-handedly for 12 years – probably a unique record for Australia. He established local treatment protocols in conformity with national and international guidelines.
He also single-handedly established Echocardiography in North Queensland. For the first eight years, he performed and interpreted all echocardiograms personally without the assistance of sonographers or cardiac scientists. Dr Gunawardane, through a commitment to continuing professional development and improvement of services, undertook a sabbatical training year in USA. (1988/89).
He worked with another distinguished Sri Lankan Cardiologist, Professor P. A. N. Chandraratne, who was the Deputy Chief of Cardiology at the University of Southern California Medical School in Los Angeles. This allowed Dr Gunawardane to establish advanced echocardiography techniques to North Queensland including trans-oesophageal and stress echocardiography.
Dr Gunawardane demonstrated outstanding leadership during the establishment of the Cardiac Unit. The establishment of the unit faced stiff competition from competing centres Cairns Base Hospital and a proposal from the Princess Alexandra Hospital Brisbane. He made a compelling and effective application to the selection committee headed by Dr Graeme Sloman, Director of Cardiology at the Royal Melbourne Hospital. He carried the day and was the sole cardiologist in the planning Northern Regional Health Authority Committee reporting to the Director General of Health.
Throughout his career Dr Gunawardane has had an abiding commitment to teaching. From 1982 onwards he was a Senior Lecturer of the University of Queensland and subsequently was Senior Lecturer and Associate Professor of Medicine at the JCU. He taught medical students, junior medical staff both basic and advanced trainees, allied medical staff and also medical practitioners in Townsville and outreach areas. Some of these trainees have gone on to become outstanding Consultants including two current Professors of Medicine.
Owing to the national recognition of the Townsville CCU, Dr Gunawardane participated in ground breaking international cardiovascular trials, the results of which still shape our current practice. The most notable were ISIS2 (International Study of Infarct Survival -2), the first trial which conclusively proved the effectiveness of thrombolysis and aspirin in the treatment of heart attack.
LIPID (Long term intervention with Pravastatin in Ischaemic Disease Trial), proving statins reduce heart attacks and vascular events. CURE (Clopidogrel in Unstable Angina to prevent Recurrent Ischaemic Events)
Dr Gunawardane also participated in JCU, QUEENSLAND and NATIONAL major collaborative studies some of which were presented internationally. He has published many manuscripts in peer reviewed journals.
In recognition of his services and achievements Dr Gunawardane was awarded a Fellowship of the Royal Australian College of Physicians (FRACP), Fellowship of the American College of Cardiology (FACC), Fellowship of the Royal College of Physicians Edinburgh (FRCPE) and the Fellowship of the Cardiac Society of Australia and New Zealand (FCSANZ).