Lessons from My Father: Dato’ Dr Devan Pillay
For top cardiologist Dato' Dr Devan Pillay, his long and well-decorated journey as a doctor wouldn’t have even begun were it not for his father, the late Tan Sri Dr R.P. Pillay.
Dato' Dr Devan Pillay
A father figure encompasses more than just being a provider for the family – often a dad also inspires and motivates, moulding character and planting seeds of ambition and dreams in their children, leaving a mark deeper than anyone can decipher.
Such was indeed the case for Dato’ Dr Devan Pillay, who isn’t only the cardiologist at Prince Court Medical Centre and Gleneagles Medical Centre, but is also one of the top heart doctors in the country. His long and well-decorated journey as a doctor wouldn’t have begun were it not for his father, the late Tan Sri Dr R.P. Pillay.
“He was my source of inspiration,” says Dato’ Dr Devan, speaking from his office about his father. “Being the eldest son, I used to be taken around the hospital by my dad. I still remember how he used to sit me in the ward in the hospital and the nurses would attend to me while he does his rounds. I can see him doing his rounds and chatting with patients. It’s one of my fondest memories.”
“That stimulated my keen interest and ever since I can remember, I’ve always wanted to be a doctor. I see him working and it always fascinated me.”
Dato' Dr Devan Pillay as a boy with his father, the late Tan Sri Dr R.P. Pillay
Tan Sri Dr R.P. Pillay was a true man of medicine, who devoted his whole life to his cardiology career. He was the physician to 4 different kings as well as 3 Prime Ministers. Being one of the pioneers of modern medicine in this country, he was also the one who founded the Coronary Care Unit in the General Hospital back in the 1960’s.
Prior to that, according to Dato’ Dr Devan, there was no specialised care for heart patients; they were put in regular wards which resulted in high mortality rates.
Tan Sri Dr R.P. Pillay introduced new and modern treatment methods he studied in the US and brought the systems back here, revolutionising the industry forever. Under his care, the CCU in the General Hospital Kuala Lumpur became one of the best centres in Southeast Asia.
He had even bigger plans of developing a standalone cardiac centre, with plans being put into motion as early as the 1970’s, but alas tragedy struck before he could see his dream materialise.
“He passed away in December 1980,” recalls Dato’ Dr Devan. “He was still in service."
“He was a cardiologist who had a heart attack," Dato' Dr Devan added, not missing the irony. "He had his first attack sometime in September and he passed away in December in the very ward he founded.”
The late Tan Sri Dr R.P. Pillay with his family
Dato’ Dr Devan was only a mere lad of 18 at the time of his father's passing, only finishing up his A-Levels in the UK and barely starting on his journey in becoming a doctor.
Thirty-four years after his death, however, his father continues to impart precious lessons to him from beyond the grave. Little snippets often return to Dato’ Dr Devan in the form of people who have crossed paths with his late father and whose lives have been impacted in more ways than one.
Lessons on being a doctor
“Unfortunately I wasn’t a doctor yet when he was still around – I’m sure I would have learnt a lot from him. What I can remember from seeing him was that he had this gift of a spot diagnosis. He could sense something wrong from a mile away. He can come into the ward, do this kind of survey and know immediately who is well and who isn’t.
Most of the information I get now are from doctors who were under his training. They tell me that my father was their idol. He taught them everything they knew. It was from there that I knew just who my father was.
His bedside manner was excellent. He used to tell me that 50% of the patient’s problems will disappear just by sitting down and talking to them. That’’s what I do now – I spend a lot of time with my patients. And it’s true, a lot of my patients’ symptoms go away if we are just compassionate enough to listen to them and talk to them.
Lessons on being a gentleman
“My mum is a very lucky woman – she was pampered head to toe by my dad. My dad did everything for her. He was excellent in choosing dresses and footwear. He had a touch of class. Everyone who knew him used to say ‘Devan, you’re not even 50% like what your dad was!’ He dresses up so well.
He always told me that to treat a woman right is very important. He always insisted that we open the door for the ladies, little chivalrous things like that. I tell my sons to do the same – they open the door for my wife. Food is always ladies first. Simple things like that make all the difference."
Lessons on being a father
“I talk a lot about my dad to my kids. I always go “Grandpa was… Grandpa used to…”. The kids want to know more about him all the time. They would ask my mother how my dad was and she enjoys it.
The memory of him is there with the kids although they’ve never met him. They were told about how good a man he was. Some of it I never really knew, until people actually came up to me and reveal to me how my father has impacted their lives. A lot of people have come up to me to tell me about the things my father has done for them. I knew then that he was a very kind man although he never showed it to us kids."
A last note
“Pa, I hope you’re proud of me. I think you would be very happy to see me the way I am now. I’ve got a beautiful happy family, two lovely boys and a lovely wife – I’m blessed in that way. I’m sure you’re looking down at us from above. I wish you can see your grandchildren grow up and get married.
You would also be very fascinated by how much medicine has progressed in the past years. You were one of the pioneers – you would have changed the landscape of medicine here if you were around. You were always a very dynamic man. You would love the new developments especially in cardiology."
(Photos: Dato' Dr Devan Pillay)
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