At the end of World War II and shortly after Dr Paul Brand's arrival in India it was brought home to him, not only how leprosy ravaged the body, but almost more so the mind, because of the dreadful curse of isolation with which it was associated. He had been examining a young man who held out to him what could only be called remnants of hands, beseeching him by words that he could only partially understand to help him. Humanly speaking it looked hopeless, and being unable to speak the language he gave the man a friendly prod in the stomach to assure him that he would give what help he could. To his dismay, tears started to stream down the man's face.
Helplessly Dr Brand spoke to a lady colleague who was standing by and asked what he had done or said to cause sudden distress.
'You touched him,' she said, 'and no one has done that for years. They are tears of joy.'
Dr Paul Brand was a world-renowned orthopaedic specialist and leprosy surgeon who solved a riddle that had plagued the world for centuries; "Why do the hands and feet of leprosy-affected people fall off? What causes the terrible deformities of leprosy? Can anything be done to prevent them or restore the damage?"
Born in 1914, the son of missionary parents, Paul grew up first in the Kollis Hill country in India. His schooling brought him to England, where he later began to work as an apprentice builder. Eventually, though, he decided that he wanted to study medicine. despite the bad memories of what that had entailed for his father! He was surprised to discover that he enjoyed the work and wrote to his mother:
"Already my whole attitude towards medical work has changed. I used to think diseased people would be rather repulsive en masse and that it would be an effort to spend a whole day in hospital. but as we begin to understand more of the causes and cures and are able to help people in pain, the whole thing is taking on a new aspect."
Paul became an orthopaedic surgeon, and in 1946 he returned to India with his wife, Margaret, to teach at a hospital in Vellore. It was there that he saw the horrors of untreated leprosy and the associated stigma. At the time, few in the medical profession were interested in attempting to treat the disease, but Paul Brand was so deeply concerned that he felt he had to try.
Over the coming years, Paul and Margaret Brand began to search for effective treatments for the disabilities leprosy can cause. He was initially met with some degree of prejudice and hostility towards the idea of giving medical treatment and hospital space to people with leprosy. However, in the late 1940s Paul became the first surgeon in the world to use reconstructive surgery to correct the deformities of leprosy in the hands and feet. Through meticulous research, Paul also proved that the shortening of fingers and toes in leprosy was entirely due to infection and injury, and therefore preventable.
Through his experiences of working with people suffering with leprosy, Paul Brand developed a philosophy about the valuable nature of pain. He and Philip Yancey wrote about this in their book, 'Pain: The Gift Nobody Wants'.
Dr Paul Brand received numerous awards and acknowledgements for his outstanding work. After some forty years working with The Leprosy Mission, in 1993 Dr Paul Brand became the President of The Leprosy Mission International. Eddie Askew, a friend and colleague of Paul Brand at The Leprosy Mission, said of him:
"From his work many thousands of individual lives have been transformed and enriched. . it wasn't just the surgical techniques that Paul worked on, it was the people. I have often watched him as he engaged with patients, assessing their disabilities and deciding what would best meet their needs. I noticed that he never concentrated solely on the hand or foot he held so gently and intimately. He looked at the patient's face, looked into the eyes. Paul was concerned for the individuals and their personalities, acknowledging and valuing our common humanity."
Written by Kathryn Parsons.