Dr. Neela Bhattacharya was born A. Neela Cathrine in Chennai on December 31st; 1969.She passed out of Fatima Matriculation Higher Secondary School, Kodambakkam, where she topped in tenth and Plus 2 examinations. She achieved her dream of becoming a doctor, when she joined MBBS in Madras Medical College in 1991.As an undergraduate; she was especially proficient in Anatomy and Surgery and received gold medals in those subjects.
With a passion for surgery, she went to Cuttack, Orissa, through the All India Postgraduate entrance examination and got a MS in General Surgery in 1994.She then worked as Assistant Professor of Surgery in Sri Ramachandra Medical College and Research Institute, Chennai for 7 years, training and teaching innumerable budding doctors and surgeons. She has over 30 research papers published in various Indian and International journals of medicine. Driven by a thirst to super specialize further, she was selected for the MCh program in Plastic Surgery at Kilpauk Medical College, Chennai between 2003 to 2006.At that time she was the mother of two kids aged 3 and 1.
Based in Chennai, Siliguri on the northernmost tip of Bengal was an unknown territory for Dr Neela. But her husband Dr. Kaushik Bhattacharya working then in North Bengal persuaded her to come to Siliguri. There was no plastic surgeon in the region then. Being a Tamilian, she found both the language and the culture of North Bengal alien. Adding to that, the people including doctors had no knowledge of what a plastic surgeon does.
Fighting the circumstances, Dr. Neela Bhattacharya joined Anandaloke Hospital and Neurosciences Centre (www.ananadaloke.com ) in 2007 and developed the department of Plastic and Reconstructive surgery with a lot of effort and perseverance. And now, at least 2 to 3 plastic surgery cases are operated by her every day that include management of hand trauma, burns, facial injuries and emergency road traffic accidents .
From 2007, under the sponsorship of a US NGO called The Smile Train, she operates on mostly infants and children with congenital deformities like Cleft lip and Cleft palate totally free of cost. (www.smiletrainindia.org ).For the past 8 years, the program is running very successfully at Anandaloke Hospital restoring smiles to more than 3,500 such children from the Dooars, Darjeeling, Sikkim, Bhutan, Bihar and Nepal besides Siliguri and neighboring districts of North Bengal. These children who belong essentially to the poorest sections of society, could never dream of such treatment before, now can easily avail this quality care and that too completely free, in a modern hospital, only because of the Smile Train project in this part of the country of which Dr. Neela Bhattacharya is the Project Director.
Dr. Neela has conducted various camps in and around Siliguri to raise awareness about this program, participated in health camps and given both paper and television interviews to reach and educate the masses.
In her Smile Train Clinic,Dr.Neela sees children who are brought right from birth with cleft deformities.She reassures the parents who feel inferior and hopeless that they have given birth to children with defects.The parents are taught how to feed these special children so that they do not aspirate,have chest infections and become malnourished.
Cleft lip repair is done at 6 months of age and palate repair at one year.The hospital stay,operation,medicines and the food are free for the patients and their family.
Speech therapy is taught after palate surgery, so that the child can develop normal speech.At 6 years of age,the cleft upper jaw in these children is united with a bone graft.
Sometimes when the patients are very poor,a transport allowance is also given to them.
Dr.Neela Bhattacharya feels that it has been her greatest priviledge and pride to be able to see these children with crippling deformities,transform into healthy,happy,beautiful children .
Impressed by the safety and results of Smile Train at her hospital, the West Bengal Government under the Sishu Sathi Scheme has issued a directive to all the Primary care centers of North-Bengal -. Uttar Dinajpur, Dakshin Dinajpur, Jalpaiguri, Cooch Behar, Alipurduar and Darjeeling to seek, screen and take all such cleft patients to Anandaloke Hospital for free treatment. This scheme started in 2013 and more than 200 children have been operated thus far. Not only that, the Border Security Force ( BSF ),the Sashastra Seema Bal ( SSB ),the Rotary Club of Sikkim also have a MOU with Anandaloke Hospital + Smile Train and bring their patients here for operation.
Plastic Surgeons in India celebrate July 15th every year as Plastic Surgery Day. Dr. Neela marks the day by operating one complicated plastic surgery case free of charge. The first time, in 2011, a poor patient with an electrical burn who had his skull bone exposed was operated with a rotation flap. The tradition continues.
It has been Dr. Neela Bhattacharya’s endeavor to make complex surgeries performed under microscope like hand replants, vessel injuries, and extensive wounds requiring skin grafts or flaps, accessible and affordable to the common man of North Bengal, especially as there are no government hospitals that provide these facilities here.
Dr. Neela Bhattacharya also handles machine crush injury, assault and accidental lacerations of the hand. These need to be managed expertly to ensure that the patient continues to work and earn his living. Burn injuries are her specialty having trained at Kilpauk Medical College, a pioneering burn care center in the country. Many long neglected burns with severe contractures find relief of their deformities with her.
Long bone fractures with soft tissue loss has to be repaired well for the patient to walk, vascular tumours are a challenge to remove, reconstruction of the face and breast after cancer ablation have both functional and aesthetic value. All these procedures are routinely done by her and she is the first person to make these options available to the people of North Bengal.
For her untiring work of over 8 years, for the large number of free cleft surgeries done, for all the hope and smile restored, she was recently awarded the Bharat Jyoti award by the India International Friendship Society in Delhi in 2014.
The Union Ministry of Women and Child Development (MWCD) in collaboration with Facebook had launched the ‘#100Women Initiative’ that aims to recognize and celebrate women who are making a difference in their communities, across the country. Public nominations via social media started from July 15, 2015, with people nominating women who have made an impact and made their community better, by visiting the ministry’s Facebook page till September 30th 2015. Voting began on November 7 on the top 200 entries as determined by a jury. And finally 100 winners were announced recently. Dr.Neela Bhattacharya has won this #100 women achiever award. The winners were felicitated by President Pranab Mukherjee at an event at Rastrapati Bhavan on January 22, 2016.
While being delighted and humbled, the recognition and fame have only increased the resolve of Dr. Neela to work with renewed vigour to help the unfortunate children in her region.