Web Exclusives: Alumni Spotlight


Archibald Fletcher ’38 with a patient in 2002 at Wanless Hospital in Miraj, India, where he worked for nearly 30 years.

Courtesy Archibald Fletcher ’38

April 4, 2007:
PROFILE—Archibald G. Fletcher ’38
Looking back on a lifetime abroad

When Archibald G. Fletcher ’38 arrived in India in 1950 as a medical missionary, he knew he would be there for the “long haul,” he says. Having grown up in Korea, where his father was also a medical missionary, he had decided to follow in his father’s footsteps in medical school. During the 30 years he spent in Miraj, Maharashtra (about 250 miles southeast of Mumbai), Fletcher dedicated himself to fulfilling the needs of a medically underserved community, developing treatments for tuberculosis, heart disease, and cancers that were common in the community.

When Fletcher, a surgeon, and his late wife, Huldah, a nurse, signed up with the Presbyterian Church, they thought they would return to Korea, where they had met as children — her father also was an American missionary doctor. But at the final conference for outgoing missionaries, says Fletcher, the organizers said, “‘We sure need somebody in India!’ We decided that we would go to India instead, and never regretted it.”

The Fletchers spent a year becoming fluent in Marathi, the local language, before getting to work at the Wanless Hospital. At the time, there were only five doctors attending to the 350-bed hospital. Fletcher worked in a variety of specialties (he even delivered two of his five sons), but focused on thoracic surgery because it previously was not practiced at the hospital.

“The challenge, excitement, and satisfaction of the job kept me there,” Fletcher says. “I was doing something that was needed.”

A pioneer in cardio-thoracic surgery in India, Fletcher established the hospital’s practice of cardiac surgery, a much-needed field because of the area’s high incidence of rheumatic heart disease. After the hospital purchased its first heart-lung machine, he performed surgery on a 9-year-old boy with pulmonic stenosis, involving obstruction of blood flow to the pulmonary arteries. That surgery in 1962 was the first successful open-heart operation using cardio-pulmonary bypass in India.

In 1980, the Fletchers left Wanless Hospital — having helped train a team of Indian doctors and nurses, missionaries were no longer needed — and returned to the United States to teach at the University of Washington, thinking their missionary days were over. But they were called back to Asia three times. He spent four years as a surgeon in Katmandu, Nepal, and three years running a hospital in Cameroon before spending a final year back in Miraj at Wanless Hospital.

Now retired and living with his second wife, Valeria, in Duarte, Calif., Fletcher recently self-published his autobiography, To India and Beyond (Xlibris), which chronicles his medical contributions abroad and his attachment to Asia. Last fall he returned to the Wanless Hospital to endow a new wing devoted to neurology and neurosurgery and to visit old friends. Looking back over his career, he says, “India and Nepal and Cameroon each came to seem like home for us.” P

By Nicole Oncina ’05

Nicole Oncina ’05 is a writer at the architecture firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill in San Francisco.