Australia Day Awardees from the community

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Honours for Jitendra Vohra (cardiology), Ajay Rane (urogynaecology) and Krishna Arora (aged welfare)

Matters of the heart: Assoc. Prof. JITENDRA VOHRA, AM
Associate Professor Jitendra Kantilal Vohra was in India celebrating with his family on January 26, when his name was officially declared as one of this year’s Australia Day awardees in the prestigious AM category.
The cardiologist and senior electrophysiologist at Royal Melbourne Hospital was honoured for significant service to medicine in the field of cardiology.
He was the first physician to apply the ‘His Bundle Electrogram’ in Australia in 1971: the technique involved the insertion of an electrode catheter into the heart via the femoral vein in the groin.
Today Prof. Vohra is a leader in genetic testing for inherited disorders of cardiac rhythm. He is the founder and current director of the Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillator (ICD) Clinic and was instrumental in the introduction of the first automatic ICD in Australia in 1984. Since 1961, he has authored over 120 medical publications and book chapters nationally and internationally.
Originally from Gujarat in India, Dr Vohra migrated to Australia in 1969 soon after the end of the ‘white Australia’ policy. He completed his MBBS and MD from Mumbai and had gone to the UK to complete his post graduation training. There he met the director of the Royal Melbourne Hospital who asked him to consider migrating to Australia.
According to him, moving to Melbourne was the ‘best decision of his life’.
“If you are sick, there is no better place than Australia as the medical standards here are comparable to America and Europe,” said Dr Vohra.
Commenting on the Indian community in Melbourne Dr Vohra said, “When I migrated things were different; there were very few Indians here. However today the community has grown in significant proportions due to migration. Australia has become richer from all the diversity. Whilst there has never been any overt discrimination, the mainstream community today is far more accepting of migrants”.
Dr Vohra recently established the Cardiac Genetic Clinic in collaboration with the Royal Children’s Hospital and was involved in establishing the Cardiac Genetic Registry forming part of the National Genetic Heart Disease Registry. He also is a mentor and educator of trainee cardiologists, particularly in Australia and the Asia-Pacific region. He co-authored in 1989 a book titled Coronary Care Workbook, widely distributed today throughout cardiac units in Australian hospitals.
“Genetic heart diseases are my main area of interest,” claimed Dr Vohra as he explained his work in layman terms. “Genetic testing is a potentially life-saving screening for patients with cardiac conditions that may predispose them to sudden cardiac death and other genetic heart diseases. It is not commonly known that many young people die due to inherited cardiac disorders. We screen families as a proactive measure to identify and help determine if they have any heart disease predisposition. At RMH we do a significant amount of testing in collaboration with the Murdoch Institute”.
Dr Vohra’s CV outlines the numerous publications, as well as organisations, research and medical health facilities that benefit from his expertise. In the little spare time he has, he likes to read, play tennis, dabble with photography and travel. He has strong ties with India, travelling back every year during Christmas to spend time with his family. According to him, people entering the medical profession nowadays are very bright, talented and hardworking, and rarely need advise. However when asked, Dr Vohra’s advice to young doctors would be to ensure that they have the ability to get along with people and other doctors, to work well within a team and have empathy for their patients. Receiving the Australia Day honour was a very rewarding experience for Dr Vohra. He is looking forward to the official ceremony later this year, when the awards will be handed to the recipients.
A woman’s best friend: Prof. AJAY RANE, OAM
While bowels and bladders are often a no-go zone for many, Professor Ajay Rane, head of obstetrics and gynaecology at James Cook University’s School of Medicine, has dedicated his career to improving the pelvic health of women.
The gregarious UK-born, India-raised and British-trained Dr Rane moved to remote north Queensland to found the department of urogynaecology at the Townsville Hospital.
The Pelvic Health Unit, a comprehensive, multidisciplinary, one-of-its-kind service in regional Australia which Dr Rane heads, is ‘at the forefront in research and treatment of debilitating bowel and bladder conditions, offering compassionate and minimally invasive therapies for their ailments’.
Since 1997, Dr Rane has brought dignity to the lives of numerous women. It is estimated that at least a quarter of women worldwide suffer silently because of the stigma associated with the issue.
Little wonder then that he is often affectionately referred to as the Saint of Townsville, and a woman’s best friend.
Dr Rane was conferred the Medal of Order of Australia (OAM) on Australia Day this year, for services in the field of medicine.
“For someone who has spent only fifteen years in this country, the recognition is a humbling one,” he confessed.
“It is more a recognition of women’s suffering. I have been very blessed for the opportunity to serve in a community that has never been serviced before. Whether it is the haves or the have not, there is always so much more to give,” he said.
Over the past decade, Dr Rane has helped generations of women overcome physical and psychosocial issues associated with incontinence. He has recently co-patented a mesh-based surgical kit (Perigee) to help sufferers.
“In the developing world, the burning issues we grapple with are birth and sexual trauma, fistulas and genital mutilation; while in the developed world we see prolapse, incontinence and now the scourge of females – genital cosmetic surgery,” he admitted.
After starting up the department of urogynaecology, he developed awareness-raising initiatives such as the ‘Beat the Bladder Blues’ program in a bid to educate thousands of women, particularly indigenous women in isolated communities.
Looking back at the challenges Dr Rane faced at the remote community hospital, he stated that the main hurdle was the metrocentric approach previously adopted.
“But in my opinion, all hurdles are a great opportunity to improve. Persistence, genuine passion, humility were the core building blocks of my team that totally changed the scenario. We soon learnt to leave behind our foreign egos and become one with the community,” he declared.
Despite extensive research and teaching commitments within Australia, Dr Rane has also made it his mission to share his knowledge and expertise with developing nations where the sub-speciality is still in a relatively nascent phase. With this aim, he founded the UroGynaecology and Reconstructive Pelvic Surgical Society of India in 2005.
Besides initiating a substantial research fellowship for overseas doctors to train in Australia, he has also established a fistula ward at the renowned Kasturba Gandhi (Gosha) Hospital in Chennai. Named after his wife Paula, whom he acknowledged as his pillar of strength, the ward lends support to distraught women, both young and old.
Dr Rane has also facilitated close bilateral cooperation between India and Australia, with local doctors travelling to India to research and address the issue.
Equally passionate about female infanticide and foeticide, Dr Rane has championed the tragic cause. In 2010, he co-produced Riwayat, a Bollywood film exploring the issues around female foeticide and infanticide.
“The movie was the result of the combined passion of Sanjay Patole and myself. We read that 40 million girls have been killed since 1984, and believed we needed to do something via the mass media. Our aim was to highlight the issue without apportioning blame. We got 14 international awards and met Omar Sharif, Richard Gere and Juliet Binoche. Sadly, we flopped in India. I think our message went too close to home. Nobody in the government is interested in adopting the movie. But we just want to save one life. If we did that was an effort well worth it,” he concluded.
As well, Dr Rane has managed to shake off the inertia and reticence towards urogynaecological disorders.
“Fifteen years and a liberal dose of humour later, people and the press are pouring into our forums,” he quipped.
Auntyji of the community: KRISHNA ARORA, OAM
Her phone has not stopped ringing and her inbox is flooded with emails ever since people have found out that Melbourne Indian community’s favourite ‘Auntyji’ has received the Order of Australia Medal (OAM) recently. Krishna Arora has been inundated with congratulations!
As a community stalwart, food enthusiast and former Principal of the Pusa Institute of Hotel Management, Mrs Arora’s popularity within the community knows no geographical barriers.
“One of my former students from Muradabad (India) rang me recently to tell me that my photograph had appeared in their local news. All my students who have settled in different parts of the world, some of whom I don’t even remember, have found out about the award and are sending me good wishes,” said the 85-year-old Mrs Arora with her characteristic enthusiasm.
Enthusiasm is only one of the words synonymous with Krishna Aunty; others that come to mind are tireless, energetic, helpful, caring…. the list goes on. With no intentions of hanging up her boots yet, her daily schedule at 85 is busier than ever. At any given time she is either off to a seniors meeting, joining the Australia Day parade, helping someone in need, dancing with Shiamak Davar’s students, cooking up a delicious meal or lobbying for a cause with local politicians. “I do whatever I can as I enjoy helping people,” said Ms Arora, giving credit to her family who encourage and support her in all her endeavours.
Krishna Aunty migrated to Australia in 1992 to live with her daughter, son-in-law and two grandchildren.
“I may not have been able to do much if I did not have freedom of movement, but thanks to my family I am able to dedicate time and effort in working with the community,” she said.
Born in Bangalore, Mrs Arora is the co- founder of the Indian Senior Citizen’s Association (ISCA) and currently on the Executive Committee of FIAV (Federation of Indian Associations of Victoria) as a representative of the Sangam community organization. She was the Founder and Principal of the Pusa Institute of Hotel Management in Delhi before retiring and migrating to Australia. Mrs Arora has authored several cook-books and contributes a regular food column in a local publication based in Melbourne. She runs a hotline tele-service offering cooking tips to people. Mrs Arora has also won several awards and citations over the years. In 2010, she was honoured with the Shilling Wall tribute for her outstanding contribution to the community. Her name was engraved on the Queen Victoria’s Women Centre Wall, and she became one of the first women of Indian origin to be awarded a Shilling Wall certificate by the Victorian Multicultural Commission.
“Receiving the Order of Australia medal is wonderful, but my real reward is the blessings, affection and respect that I have earned for helping people, especially newly arrived migrants,” claimed Mrs Arora. There are countless stories of how Mrs Arora has helped those in need, not necessarily documented or recorded, as that was not her intent.
“There are so many young families who need guidance and support from those who have lived here longer; there are people suffering from depression in their attempt to settle in a new country; there are elderly citizens who are not looked after well by their families. I try to help wherever I can in my personal capacity and recently through the FIAV, and I will continue to do so,” said the stalwart Mrs Arora.

Preeti Jabbal
Preeti Jabbal
Preeti is the Melbourne Coordinator of Indian Link.

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