First Intensive Care Unit in JBGH

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Dr T. Sachithanandan [Centre] leading a clinical ward round at the ICU at the JBGH in early 1969; The ICU was separated into cubicles with mobile partitions (top half glass/ lower half wood), a feature jointly designed by the JBGH staff and Johor Public Works Department that received universal attention
My memories of the Johor Bahru General Hospital [The Iskandarian, Dec 2016], triggered by the recent fire tragedy in the hospital’s Intensive Care Unit (ICU), caught the attention of reader, Dr Anand Sachithanandan.

Dr Anand, a Kuala Lumpur-based cardiothoracic surgeon who grew up in JB, shared with me his memories of the JBGH in particular about the ICU, because his father, the late Dr T. Sachithanandan, founded the ICU in 1968.

The idea to establish an ICU in JBGH was first conceived in October 1965 by Dr T. Sachithanandan, the Chief Anaesthetist of Johor, a young specialist and Jaycee leader to provide “specialist care for patients during the critical stage of their illness.”

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Dato’ Dr T. Sachithanandan teaching vital ‘airway management’ techniques to junior doctors and ICU nurses at the JBGH in the early 1970s

Dr Anand told me about its fascinating origins and as I read the historical accounts gleaned from writings by Tan Beng Hui in his book, Supporting Life: The Journey of Intensive Care in Malaysia, I had to share this story of how a handful of young men committed themselves to undertake a project that has perpetual benefit to the local community.

These young men aimed that the project to create an ICU in the JBGH, should give the “maximum benefit to all sections of the community regardless of age, sex, race, social status, religion or political beliefs” and decided that it should provide a service that was both pressing and urgent.

The Jaycees or volunteers in the Johor Bahru Junior Chamber International (JCI), actively involved in this project which included Low Theng Kiang, Dr T. Sachithanandan, Talib Majid, Low Theng Siang, Gerry F. Pestana, Joseph Mah, Wong Leong, Mahan Singh Penu, Rejal Arbee, Yusof Abdul Rahim, H. L. Tennakoon, Sunny Low, Mohammed Masbah Ahmad, Looi Ah Lek, Dr Ahmad Yasin Mohd Said, Lau Sun Leong, Roy M. A. Lim, Mahmood Haji Nasir, Lee Tian Chew and Lim Sow Kooi.

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Congratulatory message to the Johor Bahru Jaycees from then Prime Minister, Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra, dated 3rd February 1969, on the occasion of the official opening of the ICU in JBGH

The JCI is a worldwide non-governmental federation of young leaders and entrepreneurs with a global network across all continents, which empowers and enables young men and women to improve the lives of their communities and country through volunteer work.

Creating an ICU in the JBGH was the biggest and most ambitious project ever undertaken by any Jaycee chapter in Malaysia and in the 1960s, every single Jaycee in JB took up the challenge with a clear objective that such a ward should become a reality.

At that time, there were no ICU wards in any of the few private hospitals in the nation. The only ICU in the country then was at the University Hospital, now known as University Malaya Medical Centre, which started service in late 1968 and was officially opened in January 1969.

When Dr Sachithanandan and the Jaycees considered the possibility of establishing the first ICU in a government hospital, it seemed like a novel idea but with foresight, sheer determination and hard work, the ICU in JBGH materialised and became the first ICU in Johor.

Dr T. Sachithanandan [2nd from Left] receiving a cheque from Johor Menteri Besar Datuk Othman Saat [Right] at Bangunan Sultan Ibrahim, Bukit Timbalan in March 1968
This ICU was built at a total estimated cost of RM120,000 through funding from three different sources: Public funds, State government funds and Federal government funds.

Initially, the Jaycees raised funds from charitable donations by the Johorian public and received funds from the Johor state government led by then Menteri Besar Datuk Othman Saat.  However the RM60,000 raised was only sufficient to purchase the necessary medical equipment.

Dr Sachithanandan then led the Jaycees in successfully petitioning the Federal government to match every Ringgit it had already collected and the resulting RM120,000 made the ICU dream a reality in JBGH.

This tripartite source of funding from the Federal government, Johor State government and an NGO like the JB Jaycees, was one of the earliest examples of state-civil society engagements in the nation.

At a time when government finances to enhance and expand medical services were rather limited and strictly regulated, this was unprecedented!

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