Dr. Tejas Sankar

Top 40 Under 40 2015

Photography Curtis Trent

Age: 35

Job Title: Assistant Professor, Division of Neurosurgery, Department of Surgery, University of Alberta

Why He’s Top 40: Even though he is young, he is one of the leading neurosurgeons in the city, looking to make advances in fighting diseases that have devastating effects on families.

If you could change one thing about Edmonton, what would it be? “I’d change the attitude that some Edmontonians have [about the city]. We’re above average, but we can be excellent and I don’t think we should aim for anything less. We’ve got everything we need to be a world-class city, if we aren’t already, and we should be proud about the future. I also wish there was more stuff open late on weeknights.”

Dr. Tejas Sankar is young to be a neurosurgeon, and still gets a bit tickled about donning his white coat. “Let me get official here,” says the 35-year-old, pulling on the classic doctor uniform with a wide smile and a spring in his step as he shows a visitor his operating room at the University of Alberta Hospital.

Resolving the excitement of his job with the sadness it brings is his biggest challenge.

“Probably every week, I tell someone or their family that their loved one is going to be expiring or permanently disabled,” he says. “Patients and their families need me to show strength, and I do. I try to deal with the sadness in private.”

Diseases that cause a slow, painful decline – such as cancer and Parkinson’s – affect him most.

“[The most aggressive] brain tumours are one area where we haven’t made a lot of progress. The outcomes are still really dismal. It’s a terrible way to go,” he says. “I find that the hardest part, but I also find it motivating.”

Sankar grew up in a Montreal family of engineers, a child of immigrants from India. As a boy, he dreamed of a career in professional tennis, but was eventually drawn to medicine and what he calls “the single most complex thing on earth” – the human brain.

“Getting a disease of the brain impacts on your humanness in a way other diseases don’t.”

Preventing or easing that impact is what drives Sankar, who lives in Queen Alexandra – not far from the hospital – with his wife Angelina. He’s researching new treatments for brain diseases such as Parkinson’s, and is a national leader on deep-brain stimulation, which involves placing wires in the brain and attaching them to pacemakers.

Sankar is the only Edmonton surgeon performing the technique right now. It is also an emerging treatment to help psychiatric illnesses such as obsessive-compulsive disorder and depression – a prospect he’s excited about.

Some of the operations can take an entire day. Asked if he gets to take breaks, Sankar looks somewhat askance.

“You’ve got an awake patient with their head open, so… [not really].”

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