A leper came to Him, begging on his knees, “If you want to, you can cleanse me”. Deeply moved, Jesus put out his hand, touched him and said, “I want to. Be clean.” Then and there the leprosy was gone, his skin smooth and healthy.” Mark 1:40-42 (The Message Bible)
“Unclean! Unclean!”- this is how a leper would announce his presence in ancient times. Leprosy, also known as Hansen’s disease, carried a stigma; it was perceived as a highly communicable disease. Leprosy patients were labelled as outcasts or untouchables. In the 1940s, at least seven million people were affected by leprosy in India. They were neglected by their family and society, and little was done to study about this grievous disease, let alone treat it.
When Dr. Paul Brand came to Vellore to teach at the Christian Medical College in 1946, he was gripped by the horror faced by the leprosy patients. They were mostly untreated and socially outcast. He had compassion on them. Once when he gave a friendly nudge to a patient, tears of joy rolled down his face because no one had touched him in years.
Little did Paul know that the mission he was about to undertake would revolutionise the treatment of leprosy patients worldwide.
Paul Wilson Brand was born in 1914, to missionary parents Jesse and Evelyn Brand in the Kolli Hills of Tamil Nadu. At age 9, he was sent back to England for better education. On completing his schooling, Paul felt called to study medicine and joined the University Medical School in London. There he met fellow student Margaret Berry, and they got married in 1943.
Paul was trained as a hand surgeon and developed a special interest in leprosy. Even as a child, he had seen many tribal people in India whose stubs of fingers and toes were lost to leprosy. In 1946, he was invited to teach as a surgeon at CMC Vellore. Paul soon realized that no one had ever really studied the deformities of leprosy and so he set out to study the disease and explored new ways to treat it.
After painstaking research, experiments, and analysis, he attempted the first-ever reconstructive surgery on a person with leprosy in 1947.
In 1950, the New Life Center – a model rehab centre for patients suffering from Hansen’s disease - was established. The concept of pain as a gift was his most significant discovery. He proved that leprosy does not cause the rotting away of the hands and feet; instead patients are prone to injuring themselves due to loss of sensation.
Soon general hospitals started admitting the lepers for the first time.
The Brands stayed in India for nineteen years, dedicating themselves for the cause of providing healing to the sufferers and changing lives with the touch of their hands. Dr. Brand worked as a surgeon and teacher at CMC, also founding a leprosy hospital known as Karigiri. He operated thousands of patients with love and compassion and helped restore their God given dignity. Many put their faith in Jesus even as they were physically treated. Dr. Brand also co-authored several books including “The Gift of Pain” exploring the valuable nature of pain.
Even after they moved back to their homeland, Dr. Brand taught and worked until his retirement in 1986. He served as the President of The Leprosy Mission International from 1993 to 1999. He remained an advocate for the cause of leprosy and was successful in changing the outlook towards those suffering from the disease.
Dr. Brand merely followed the footsteps of his master, Jesus, who reached out and touched the lepers and healed them. There are thousands of untouchables and outcasts in the world around us. Will we be the hands of Jesus? Will we reach out - to touch, to care, to heal?