Updated on April 20, 2019
When Rangoon University re-opened in 1946 (after closing for three years), Dr. Pe Nyun (Dick San Pe), his younger brother Dr. Pe Thein (Tom San Pe) and their elder sister entered Rangoon University. Their classmates include Saya U Tin U and Saya U Sein Hlaing.
At the Independence Day Regatta in 1948, Dr. Pe Nyun, Dr. Pe Thein and U Tin U represented RUBC and received their Gold.
U Tin U served as Captain and Dr. Pe Nyun served as Secretary.
When I visited Uncle U Thein Han and Aunty Flora San Pe in Maryland a few years back, their younger son Nge Nge showed me a book written by his uncle Dr. Pe Nyun (for family members).
The following account is written by Dr. Thane Oke Kyaw Myint when he learned about the demise of Dr. Pe Nyun.
Remembering Saya U Pe Nyun
21 March 2012
Today would be the day of Saya Pe Nyun’s funeral in Toronto. I had been struggling with myself on writing about my Saya but couldn’t do so as I was overwhelmed with the loss of one of my eminent teachers, those who made me a better paediatrician.
I looked up the entry for Saya in “Who’s Who in Health and Medicine” 2005 and could only find the short entry given below.
“979 Pe Nyun, Professor Dr. U, M.B., B.S. (Rgn); F.R.C.S. (Edin.); SAMA 1227; Paediatric Surgeon; son of Sithu U San Pe born 22 April, 1927. Education: University of Rangoon, M.B., B.S., 1953; Royal College of Surgeons, Edinburgh, 1959. Career: Civil Assistant Surgeon, Rangoon General Hospital and Maymyo Civil Hospital; Surgeon, Rangoon and Mandalay General Hospitals; Paediatric Surgeon, Rangoon Children’s Hospital; Professor and Consultant, Rangoon Children’s Hospital and Mingaladon Military Hospital; Served in Singapore, Brunei, Trinidad and Tobago and Canada; retired in Canada. Special Mention: Leader of the Surgical Team that successfully separated Ma Nan Soe and Ma Nan San, the first set of conjoint twins to be operated upon in Burma; was also involved in the planning of the present Rangoon Children’s Hospital building. Address: 135 Antibes Drive # 606, Toronto, Ontario, M2R2Z1, Canada (Tel. – (416) 665 8925 )”
Saya, in spite of his achievements was modest, and at the time when others were ensuring that more comprehensive accounts about them be included, Saya in all modesty just sent the above. No urging by Saya U Mya Tu was listened to. Saya U Pe Nyun insisted to keep the entry as it was in the first edition of “Who’s Who”. (I am sure that Saya Mya Tu would have commented that “Dick is just being hard-headed as usual (in not adding anything)”
I saw that the news of Saya passing away has been posted on so many websites and blog sites, both medical and non-medical. Just show how extensive is Saya’s reputation among the Burmese at home and with our Diaspora.
In most blogs and in comments made on the blogs, people wrote only about the separation of the conjoint twins (Ma Nan Soe and Ma Nan San) in July 1971. But I would like to add that Saya did much more pioneer work in paediatric surgery in Burma than this publicised case.
Saya diagnosed, managed and operated on children who would have died without his surgical intervention: children with Hirschprung Diease coming in with bloated abdomen and severe malnutrition, where he would do an initial colostomy, build up the child and later do colectomies; newborns and infants with oesophageal atresia with or without trachea-oesophageal fistulas on whom he did initial gastrostomies, treated the lung infections and then operated on to correct the atresia; numerous cases (at that time) of constrictive pericarditis due to TB doing pericadiotomies so that normal cardiac function could return; pleural resection and partial lobectomies for children with empyema with or without lung abscess; ligation of Patent Ductus Arteriosis; biliary atresias, choledocal cysts (the large choledocal cyst he operated on in a child still held as being the largest among reported case of choledocal cysts); putting in shunts in children with hydrocephalus; widening sutures in microcephalic children, surgery on talipes; repair of cleft palate and cleft lips – these were only some of the diverse cases of paediatric problems that he faced and treated, many of which would be done now only by surgeons specialising in different disciplines of surgery ( like thoracic surgeons, cardiac surgeon, orthopaedic surgeons, neurosurgeons or facial and reconstructive surgeons etc). I also would like to mention that Saya’s preparation, surgery and post-op care were such that there were very few fatalities among children he operated on.
Till Ko Harry (Prof. U Htut Saing) came back from England, Saya single-handedly did these complicated operations with support from Anaesthetist Saya U Hla Tun, his trained paediatric surgical nurse Ma Nan Yin, and rotating assistants who were previously not trained in surgery. He kept some of those with surgical skills for longer periods in his ward (Ko Maung Maung San, Ko Tun Aye, Ko Mya Thein, Ko Min Oo, Ko Maung Maung Yay, Saw Simon Tha) whom he took the trouble of training them so that they would become competent assistants to him. Saya was meticulous on doing preoperative care of these patients so that they would stand surgery. Dr. Thet Thet Nwe worked with Saya for two years, before leaving for UK for postgraduate studies.
Being the only paediatric surgeon at that time, every day was operation day for him, including weekends, starting at 7.00 am and finishing late in the evening. I admired Saya’s ability and endurance to work such long hours day in and day out. When the Institute of Medicine 2 opened, he was also teaching and doing surgery at the Defence Services General Hospital. He must have been overworked or stressed when one day on coming back from DSGH, Saya fainted and nearly had a bad accident while driving back from Mingaladon.
I could go on about Saya’s prowess as a paediatric surgeon but would stop now.
I wonder how many people would know how our family and Saya’s family were very close because Saya’s father Sithu U San Pe ICS and U Tin Tut (my father’s elder brother) were at school together. Later my father would become as close with U San Pe as was U Tin Tut, especially after U Tin Tut was assassinated in 1948. Every morning U San Pe, U Po Sa (father of Brig. Kyaw Win FRCP and grandfather of Dr. Eddie Tha Win), U Tin Tut (later U Kyaw Myint) would go for a morning walk, starting from Inya Road, down to Boundary Road and the friends walking towards the Shwe Dagon and back. Saya jokingly wrote to me that the clockwork nature of precisely leaving their homes each morning meet one another must have made it easier to snatch U Po Sa by his kidnappers (yet another story to be told!)
Father fondly remembered U San Pe and when I was working in the Rangoon Children’s Hospital, often asked me about “Ko San Pe’s sons” meaning Saya U Pe Nyun and Saya U Pe Thein. My father was fond of the two brothers because of what they did for the family during the Japanese Occupation.
During the Occupation, a senior Japanese army officer posted to Sagaing had commandeered U San Pe’s house. But as he felt obliged to u San Pe for letting him stay there, he asked the Japanese authorities to appoint U San Pe as the Sugar distribution agent in Rangoon, as at that time sugar being scarce, was a controlled item. According to my father, Saya Dick and Saya Tom would come to where our parents were living in Boundary Road, to give sugar for our family, which if they had been caught might be punished. When Saya U Pe Thein passed away, I wrote to Saya U Pe Nyun, mentioning this and thanked both Saya Dick and Saya Tom for increasing my chances of survival at birth.
I was born in January 1945 during the Occupation when food was scarce. Apart from not having enough food, my mother had rheumatic heart disease and was also was having chronic amoebic dysentery. U San Pe sent more than usual amount of sugar for my mother throughout her pregnancy. I wrote to Saya that but for mother’s diet being augmented by the sugar brought by Saya Tom and him, I might have been born small for gestational age instead of being born with a birth weight of nearly eight pounds. Mother’s condition must be quite bad as on the same day I was born she had heart failure, said to be due to the valvular disease compounded by being given large doses of emetine injection given for dysentery, and was hospitalised.
Over the past ten years or so, Saya was kind enough to stay in touch with me by email, even worried if I had not written to him for some time, sending short messages saying “Why so quiet? are you okay ?” He would write to me long email covering diverse topics including Buddhism and meditation, Burma’s history, vignettes of his father and his family life, sharing his dreams and vision for our country and more so for paediatrics, books he had read and books he wanted me to read, his own health and about his family, and often about the political situation in Burma. Last might I reread his emails again and was appreciating what he sent. This morning I Googled Saya: and found that he took time to read many blogs and eZines on the web, and not only read but commented upon them. Saya joined us on the Alumni Myanmar Institutes of Medicine (AMIM) and posted historical information of what it was like working in RGH and RCH and his thoughts on various issues from time to time.
Saya was an old Paulian (an alumnus of St. Paul’s in Rangoon), an Old Croc (a senior member of Rangoon University Boat Club), and a keen golfer.
Saya will be sorely missed by many: I am sure that just like I am writing now, many of saya’s friends and colleagues, those who were trained by him, those whom he operated on would be thinking of Saya and joining Ma Ma Connie and Saya’s family in praying for Saya.
Thane Oke Kyaw-Myint
21 March 2012