Walking through the spacious corridors of JJ hospital, it is hard not to be amazed at the wealth of medical history that the walls have witnessed since its inception. One such marvel is anatomist Henry Vandyke Carter, the obscure illustrator of famous book Gray’s Anatomy, who had made several contributions to the field of medicine, some of which were made in OPD Room no. 7 of JJ hospital.
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Carter enrolled in the Indian Medical Services in 1858 and moved to Bombay and worked as the professor of anatomy at Grant Medical College. He spent much of his time researching in the laboratory, at present known as Clinical Pathology Laboratory, or more commonly OPD Room No. 7. The room, which was earlier renamed Vandyke Carter Laboratory in his honour, has seen minimal renovations and remains in its erstwhile pristine condition.
During the famine of 1876-1878, ‘famine fever’ was increasingly becoming the prominent cause of deaths in Bombay. Dr Carter instituted research on the same and termed it as “Relapsing Fever”. He identified the causative agent spirochaete ‘Spirillium Minus’ for which he received the Stewart Prize of the British Medical Association at Worcester, London, in 1882.
He also named mycetoma as ‘Fungal Tumor’, which was earlier known as Madhura foot after the region where it was identified in India. Though he wasn’t able to identify the type of fungus it was, he delineated its clinical and anatomical attributes better than it has ever been done before.
Dr Carter was appointed as the principal of Grant Medical college and was the first physician of JJ hospital in 1877. Furthermore, he held the post of Dean of Medical Faculty at the University of Bombay.
During the 30 years he spent in India, he documented his findings in famous publications — On mycetoma or the fungus disease of India, Modern Indian leprosy and Spirillum fever: Synonyms famine or relapsing fever as seen in western India.
Dr Anuradha Murti, who extensively researched Carter’s life, said that he worked for the Indian population, mingled with the farmers and took initiatives to cure diseases. He achieved professional acme during the 30 years he had spent in India. His unrelenting efforts bore fruitful results despite the lack of proper equipment.
As his parting gift to Bombay, he donated a massive sum of Rs10,000 in 1888 for the establishment of a lectureship in physiology.
Despite his contributions, Carter’s name is fading fast from the memory of JJ hospital. The laboratory that was named after him has since been renamed. There are very few doctors in JJ hospital who remember him and even fewer students remember his existence.