Interview Series with Dr. Yugeesh Lankadeva and Mr. Dulaj Abeykoon | RI Alumni

The success of a school cannot be measured by its towering buildings, well maintained campuses or the number of students who walk through the gates. The joy, excitement and fondness that the students cherish decades after graduating and the contribution its alumni make in a vast range of spheres towards making this world a better place for life, unveil the success of a school.

Royal Institute International School (RI), throughout its legendary journey of 50 long years, has proudly produced thousands of charismatic individuals who serve the human race in one way or the other; here back home or out there in foreign lands.

Unfolded below are the victories and fond memories Dr. Yugeesh Lankadeva and Mr. Dulaj Abeykoon, two notable alumni of Royal Institute.

Portrait of Dr Yugeesh Lankadeva for The Florey Institute. Photograph by Chris Hopkins

 

Dr. Yugeesh Lankadeva

National Heart Foundation Future Leader Senior Research Fellow

– Laboratory Head of Translational Cardiovascular and Renal Research Group at Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health, Melbourne, Australia

  1. We’d like to know a bit about your early school days at Royal Institute.

I joined Royal Institute, Nugegoda branch in Grade 6, and it was the Primary and Lower Secondary arm back then. I then moved to the Havelock Town branch, where I completed my London O-Levels. Later, our family had to move temporarily to Australia.

 

  1. It is said that you were a blend of mischief and obedience. Do you agree?

Yes, I think I was very mischievous. We had a great friends’ group as kids. We enjoyed ourselves; at the same time, studied and engaged in extra-curricular activities. It was such a great time. We made the most of our school days and had great relationship with our teachers.

  1. Amidst all your mischief, how did you draw the affection of your teachers?

The teachers certainly knew that although we were mischievous outside of class, when it came to more serious times, we would put our heads down and do what was required of us. In class, we were always very respectful towards our teachers and balanced it out pretty well. That’s how justifiable it is.

  1. Though a brilliant student, you were never confined to academics only. You held leadership roles. Explain.

I always felt that at Royal Institute, we were never encouraged to be bookworms, but to take part in extra-curricular activities – swimming, athletics and cricket. We were student athletes and that immensely catered to my personality. It brought out the best in us because it taught us team spirit, acceptance of your losses, and acceptance of your wins, gracefully. I was very fortunate to be engaged in a lot of sports events. In primary school, I captained the Under-15 cricket team and went out to become the captain of the Under-17 cricket team at high school. I eventually became the Athletics Captain of the school. It was such a great time.

  1. You were a dynamic sportsman and a triumphant leader? How would you describe?

I think, you have to be good at what you are doing. I might not get something the first time, but I would work hard to get it the second or third time. It is okay to fail for the first time; everyone fails. But you should keep working at something hard enough. I think that attitude helped me excel in sports and eventually take on leadership roles as captain or Athletics Captain.

  1. What happens after your A Levels?

At that time, there were not many opportunities for students from international schools to enter state/national universities. So, most of my colleagues had to go overseas to pursue their university education. I moved to Australia and started my undergraduate degree at Deakin University. On completing it, I went on to do my Honours, and from there I went on to do my PhD. The rest is history, and here I am.

  1. As a young student, were you aspired to be a PhD holder one day?

I was aspiring to be a medical doctor and practice on an everyday basis but found out very early that medicine is advancing. I knew that the only way medicine could advance is through research. As a doctor in a hospital setting, your activity is often restricted because you are governed by mandated protocols and guidelines, and you can’t really deviate from those unless there is evidence to suggest that it is for something better. And that’s what really drew me towards medical research because I felt that as a doctor, I couldn’t do that. I wanted to take up medical research into the translational space so that I could provide evidence to make the current policy and practice better.

  1. From Royal Institute, Nugegoda to the Bachelor’s degree at Deakin University, Australia and to a full scholarship funded PhD at Monash University; how exciting was your journey?

Well, it’s along the way when you realize that what everybody sees is the tip of the iceberg, where there is success. But then, there is a whole base of the iceberg that’s right under water, where there are failures, blood, sweat and tears. As you progress through the stages trying to achieve your goal, competition increases with each stage. At certain times, it’s not about how smart you are, but about the amount of work you put in and your level of persistence. So, having that persistence and will builds character.

  1. What message would you like to share with the young students who are inspired by you?

“Find something that you are passionate about.” If you are not passionate about something, it might feel like a chore. In my experience, everybody who succeeded never triumphed because of traditional 9 to 5 working. To be great at something, you need to put in more work than an average person. Once you find something that you really care about, it doesn’t even feel like work because you’re working towards your passion. That will help you keep going in the midst of any failure or obstacle that is thrown in your way.

  1. As a Senior Research Fellow and Head of the Translational Cardiovascular and Renal Research Group at the Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health in Melbourne, you have carried out numerous researches to help mankind. We’d like to know more.

We were working heavily on Sepsis, a leading cause of death around the world. This is a growing problem among the aging population. Many think it is one disease, but in fact it’s a syndrome. When a person’s body cannot fight an infection, it spreads all around your body – your body goes into shock and your organs start failing. We found that Covid 19 patients who were critically ill shared very similar symptoms with patients with Sepsis. At the time we were developing a naturally occurring anti-oxid therapy. We did it in a few animal studies and it had shown several profound benefits. Once, we were presented with a patient at one of our affiliated hospitals, who we treated as a compassionate use case; he was recovering thereafter and we managed to pull him out of the critical stage. That was really gratifying.

  1. You have published over 40 writings in international publications at a significantly young age. How do you feel about it?

Well, I wanted to create a legacy that lived on. And I believe that the knowledge you bring into the world is something that lives longer than you do. It is personally rewarding and it’s great that I could contribute to the medical field. I want to keep contributing new knowledge to this field so that we can improve the current therapies and the patients’ lives, in turn. And I feel that really fuels my engine as a Medical Scientist and Researcher.

It was never a one-man show. I was lucky that I had great mentors who inspired and worked with me. I built a great team of like-minded people who had a common goal and worked towards creating knowledge that would make a difference.

 

  1. You have been awarded millions of research funding and over 20 career accomplishment awards, based on your achievements. Explain.

Those were given on the basis of how clinically relevant the work was. The funding landscape in Australia is extremely competitive. Without the funding, it’s really difficult to do what we are really doing right now. So, it’s very important in that sense, but I am proud of what we’ve achieved and want to sustain this group that I’ve built. My key priority now is to create a safe environment for my laboratory, my staffs and my students who I supervise, so that even during difficult times they may reach their maximum potential. This is something that I really aspire, and hope to see it succeed so that I could keep facilitating that vision.

  1. How can your latest research findings on sepsis treatment help the Covid 19 victims?

Well, this is not a treatment for people who get diagnosed with Covid. It is basically for people who become critically ill. We believe that this therapy could help reverse organ failure and help patients come out of the ICU. We are currently running multiple clinical trials in Australia in the Sepsis field and we hope to run Covid trials in some of the other countries. Luckily, Australia has done really well in keeping Covid-19 at a bay. We now rely on our international collaborations to partner with us so that they can run a trial that might bring about benefits of this therapy to the people. It is an exciting space, and we are willing to collaborate with anyone who wants to collaborate with us.

  1. As a researcher with high international recognition, what is your ambition today?

Well, it is one thing to translate your research into clinical trials. But it’s another thing to change current policy and practice. As you know that doctors are creatures of habit. So, it is difficult to change their perception on standard practice, sometimes. So, you have to make sure that your research goes through proper process and several phases prior to the clinical trial. Then, they can change the current policy and practice. So, with the discoveries that I have in pipeline, my ambition is to get into a place where I can change the current practice and policy. My ambition is to sustain a trajectory and foster an environment where I can empower my students and staffs to do better and collaborate with as many people.

 

Mr. Dulaj Abeykoon

Assistant Accountant

TNT Services (Australia)

 

  1. Could you vividly recall your early days at Royal Institute?

I joined Royal Institute in the year 1998 and left in 2010 – twelve fantastic years in school. I would call RI my second home since I’ve spent most of my time there and I was engaged in several extra-curricular activities as well. I had such a lot of exciting time in school.

  1. Way back then, behind your cute, innocent looks was a bundle of mischief. How would you describe it?

Well, when I was quite young, I was really mischievous in school – a stage that has gifted me so many fond memories of my school days: being pulled up by teachers for being notorious, not doing the homework or fighting with fellow friends. One time I remember, I had a fight with a good friend of mine and we both ended up being at Mrs. Bandara’s office. Those were the good times. This mischief is still cherished because these are the things that truly keep us alive.

  1. While at primary school, were you engaged in extra activities?

Of course, I was involved in many extra-curricular activities when young. I always secured a main role in school concerts which were organized by the then music teacher. In addition to those music concerts, I was also engaged in sports – cricket, athletics and swimming.

  1. You develop more interest in cricket, later on. When was this?

I started developing interest in cricket when I was three years old – the time when my father brought me a plastic ball and a bat. Later, when I had started school at Royal Institute, in Grade 4, the teacher-in-charge back then walked into the classroom one day and asked us if we were interested in cricket. I at once stood up and went for it. From there on, I had played under each age category and moreover, captained the teams from under 13 to under 19. As you see, cricket is one of the areas where I had developed my talent and continue to do so to date.

  1. You captained the RI cricket teams. How do you see the responsibility of a leader?

Responsibility of a leader is a lot of pressure. However, when I was a captain at RI, it wasn’t that hard for me because we played as one unit. Everyone was equally keen in the game and shared the willingness alike to win the tournament; everyone was performing, and we had excellent coaches and committed teachers to guide us through all our ups and downs. I had a wonderful coach who helped me develop most of the leadership skills I required. He taught me what to do and what not to, how to handle the situations under pressure, how to set the field for certain batsmen, and how to handle certain match-situations. Evidently, the lessons that I have learnt and skills I have developed as a leader remain equally important to me even today in my day-to-day life.

  1. You and your teams won two Inter–School Cricket Championships. Would you like to share some of your experiences?

Royal Institute’s cricket teams were known to be the toughest and most competitive teams among international schools in the island. We always used to go head-to-head with the other top schools which would target our players. Once, we won the U-17 championship, and there I remember I played 49 runs; yet, that is teamwork. We had many players contributing towards our victory. We batted really well, and chased 160 odds in a 40 over game. After we had won, the entire crowd came onto the grounds with the flags. All principals and teachers were there to witness our victory. It is truly unforgettable. I was also awarded as the ‘Best Cricketer’, and you know, that means quite a lot to a young player.

  1. Where is that ‘Best Cricketer’ awardee today?

He is now residing in Australia, still playing cricket and still winning awards. Recently, he’s won the ‘Best Bowler Award’ in a tournament here.

  1. What kind of support have you received from your teachers and coaches?

Well, right from the start, we had been led really well by the teachers. They have guided and taught us really well and they have shown us the right path. They have guided us in doing what is right and making the right choices in life. They’ve taught us many lessons apart from classroom studies, to live a respectable life – to be a good citizen and a compassionate human – these lessons have guided us right along and moulded us to be who we are today.

  1. How do you think sport helps you have a well-balanced life even after leaving school?

Sport was the sculptor who shaped my life to make me who I am today; it makes us build a great deal of behaviour. We’ll always be focused and in track when we play – we know the targets, and the courage to aim those targets come handy in normal day-to-day life as well. If we are to achieve our goals in life, we ought to know how to achieve them by following a step-by-step process and aligning the tracks to meet the target. Sport is one area that clears your mind.

 

  1. What is the one most memorable moment in your school life?

Well, I was just 11 years old when I was playing U-15 in an international schools tournament, and I won the ‘Best Bowler Award’. That was the time when I was playing with the seniors who were 3-4 years older than I was. I felt so proud that I was able to bring that award to school. That was my first award as a cricketer and certainly, one of the most memorable moments in my school life.