Head-and-neck surgeon and otolaryngologist, Vijay S. Dayal, MD, 1936-2011

Head-and-neck surgeon and otolaryngologist, Vijay S. Dayal, MD, 1936-2011

July 5, 2011

An internationally known authority on the neurophysiology of the auditory and vestibular nerves and on treatment of diseases of hearing and balance, such as Meniere's disease, Vijay S. Dayal, MD, professor emeritus of surgery at the University of Chicago, died June 30, 2011, at age 74.

As a physician, Dayal had a reputation for listening intently to his patients, advancing carefully and relentlessly toward a precise diagnosis and performing elegant operations. His colleagues, patients, friends and family consistently describe him as "soft-spoken" and a "gentleman of the old school." His students, nurses, his secretary, even his children insist he never raised his voice at anyone.

"He was quite a guy," said colleague Ernest Mhoon, MD, professor of surgery at the University of Chicago. "Vijay Dayal was the epitome of the old phrase, a gentleman and a scholar, but he was the real thing--always impeccably dressed, knowledgeable and eloquent about seemingly everything, and loaded with British reserve. At the same time his expertise in the field, especially vestibular problems such as dizziness, and his enthusiasm for teaching the residents were obvious."

"He was very quiet, very focused and thoroughly deliberate," said Elizabeth Blair, MD, a fellow otolaryngologic surgeon at the University of Chicago. "He combined broad clinical experience with a deep knowledge of patient care and the science behind it--something he was always willing to share. It was always a pleasure to work with him."

"He had an enormous impact on my career," said Jayant Pinto, MD, assistant professor of surgery at the University of Chicago, who trained in otolaryngology with Dayal. "He was a mentor to all of the residents in our program. He knew everything there was to know about otology and seemingly about every related field in our specialty. He was absolutely devoted to teaching, and he was a wonderful surgeon."

He was also an accomplished inventor. In 1981, Dayal and colleagues in Toronto received U.S. Patent 4274162 for their "artificial replacement for the larynx," a voice box for people who had lost theirs to trauma or throat cancer. Their replacement larynx "imitates the function of the natural larynx," according to the patent. It controls the opening and closing of the trachea in the presence of food and permits normal exhalation of air through the patient's mouth, which enhances voice projection, "a significant improvement over the situation where the patient breathes continuously through a hole in the neck."

At the University of Chicago, he developed and installed a customized rotating chair for diagnosis of dizziness and balance disorders. Patients were securely fastened into the chair and swiveled in either direction, testing the effectiveness of the balance organs throughout a large range of normal motion.

"Testing in the chair is not uncomfortable for the patient," explained Dayal, who had been for several spins himself, at the chair's unveiling in 1991. "It's like a mild ride on a merry-go-round and it provides us with information we cannot get any other way. This often means a more precise diagnosis and better treatment."

Born September 20, 1936, in Ranchi, Bihar State, India, Vijay Shanker Dayal showed early academic promise. At the age of 17, he entered Patna University, where he met his future wife, Sheela Sadhu. They both studied at Patna Medical College. He graduated from medical school, at age 22, in 1959, and spent a year as a junior house surgeon in the ear-nose-throat department at Patna Medical College Hospital. In 1960, they moved to the Royal Victoria Hospital at McGill University in Montreal for their residencies, his in otolaryngology and hers in obstetrics and gynecology. In 1961 they got married.

After completing his residency in 1964, Dayal did a three-year fellowship in otolaryngology at the Royal Victoria Hospital. In 1967 he joined the faculty at the University of Toronto as a clinical teacher, and was promoted to assistant professor in 1968, associate professor in 1975 and professor in 1981. He came to the University of Chicago as a professor of surgery in 1986 and stayed on the faculty until assuming emeritus status in 2007. At Chicago he served as director of neuro-otology and as director of the balance and hearing disorders program.

Dayal published nearly 80 research papers for scientific journals and was both the author and illustrator of Clinical Otolaryngology, which became the standard text in the field soon after it appeared in 1981. He lectured throughout North America, Europe and Asia and received many honors and awards, including the Campbell Prize in Otolaryngology from the University of Toronto in 1975, the Honor Award from the Canadian Otolaryngological Society in 1987, and the Gold Medal from the Association of Otolaryngologists of India in 1989. The University of Chicago honored him with a symposium in his honor in 2006 and its Gold Key award in 2007.

He will be remembered by his students for a litany of catchy epigrams that embodied his teaching philosophy. "One favorite," recalled Pinto, "was 'the eye cannot see what the mind does not know.' By that he meant that a clinician needs deep knowledge of disease and hard work studying its diverse manifestations so as to recognize specific signs and symptoms in the patient when they present."

Patients and nurses adored him, Pinto added, and he shared his wisdom in the clinic as easily as in the lecture hall, dispensing diagrams of the anatomy of the ear to explain diseases and their surgical or medical treatment.

He combined that deep knowledge with wide-ranging interests. "Every week for the last 10 years I would seek out a strange case and feed him the details to see if he could figure it out," said his son Amit Dayal, MD. "I never stumped him. That kind of breadth is not common in the modern era."

In addition to medicine, Dayal was something of an expert on Indian carpets, Indian classical music, photography and gardening, especially growing roses, said his family. "He read constantly--art history, religion--and retained everything," said his daughter Anji. "He was a renaissance man. He also wore a very nice tie and blazer at all times."

Dayal is survived by his wife of nearly 50 years, Sheela Dayal, MD; a son, Amit; two daughters, Aneeta and Anjali; and two grandchildren, Laila and Faye.

Private funeral services were held July 1. A prayer and memorial service will be held at 10:00 a.m., July 11, at the Sheraton Chicago Hotel and Towers.