Wednesday, August 04, 2010

A fascinating journey of a Malayali girl who makes a career in Germany: Meet Dr Omana Trentz


Recently, I met a wonderful woman called Dr Omana Trentz who has devoted a whole career researching human cells. I was interviewing her for a magazine and even as she began the story of her life, I knew it would turn out to be a fascinating story.

A young Omana boarded a ship from Cochin in 1959 to sail to West Germany to pursue a career in medicine. She later marries a German colleague who proposes to her and ends up working in Hanover and Zurich. It was after retirement that Dr Omana accepted Dr P.V.A. Mohandas’s (founder and managing director of MIOT Hospitals) invitation to come to his facility and head the research wing. Today, Dr Omana Anna Trentz-Thottakara heads the MIOT Institute of Research but finds time to spend six months in a year in Germany and Switzerland, where her children are.

Born in Trivandrum to Varghese and Chinama, Omana, the eldest of nine children, attended primary school in Manickamangalam, near Kaladi, moving to Perumbavoor for secondary education and to Ettumanoor for high school. From St Mary’s College, Trichur, she obtained in 1958 her Bachelor of Literature (BILT) degree, bagging the gold medal for best student, which was presented to her by the Maharajah of Travancore, Chithira Thirunal Balarama Varma. She, however, chose to do science because she was good in math and physics and liked zoology and biology.

Omana’s maternal grandfather was N.V. Joseph, a well-known lawyer who allowed people from the lower caste to enter temples. According to Omana, girls were not allowed to go for higher studies in those days, even those from well-to-do families. She was extremely fortunate that she was not only allowed to attend college but also given the freedom to pursue her chosen career in medicine.

By the time Omana graduated, she received a scholarship to study Human Medicine from the University of Wurzburg in the State of Bavaria, West Germany, one of the oldest universities in that country. On 14 March, 1959, Omana left Cochin for Wurzburg, sailing aboard an Italian ship, Roma.

In Wurzburg, Omana had a big problem. Most of the study books were in German and she knew hardly a word. The professors lectured in German. She desperately needed help to study and to be able to write exams. A student arranged help and introduced her to Otmar. They would meet at the Institute of Topographical Anatomy where he would coach her. Even in her wildest dreams Omana had never imagined Otmar proposing to her towards the end of her study period.

Indeed, times were tough when love blossomed for Omana and Otmar. It was the period after World War II. Most Germans were poor. Families ate meat only once in two weeks. Most houses had small gardens to grow vegetables. They survived on bread and soup. There were a lot of refugees from the eastern part of Germany.

Omana married Otmar Trentz on 16 August 1967. He had grown up in the oldest city in Germany called Trier, on the banks of the Moselle River near the Luxembourg border. Their marriage was held at the Maria Laach Abbey, a Benedictine abbey.

Omana and Otmar, a trauma surgeon, have three children – Robert Andreas, who works in a bank; Peter Lukas, an engineer; and Hans George, an engineer as well – and five grandchildren, including Peter’s twin boys.

For the entire story, get a copy of the latest issue of Eve’s Touch.

Picture shows Dr Oama Trentz in her spacious office at MIOT Hospitals.

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