UM Surgeon Jagajan “JJ” Karmacharya, M.D., Dies in Nepal Plane Crash

Jagajan “JJ” Karmacharya, M.D., associate professor of clinical surgery, chief of vascular surgery at the Miami VA hospital and associate program director of the vascular surgery fellowship, died Sunday in a plane crash in his homeland of Nepal, where he had gone to visit his ailing mother. Also killed were Dr. Karmacharya’s girlfriend, one of his brothers, a sister-in-law, and the 15 other passengers and crew who were aboard a Buddha Air sightseeing flight to Mount Everest.

Speaking for the grieving Lucille and DeWitt Daughtry Family Department of Surgery and the broader Miller School family, Alan S. Livingstone, M.D., the Lucille and DeWitt Daughtry Professor and chairman of the department, said words are inadequate to express the depth of sorrow over the tragedy, and for Dr. Karmacharya’s far-too-short legacy. He was 45.

“What can anyone say other than he was a wonderful human being, a great colleague and educator, and that we will all miss him?’’ Livingstone said. “Random episodes like this that prematurely take someone from us as they are in the ascendancy of their career are always difficult to fathom. These seemingly senseless events make us all reflect on how mortal we are, and the imperative of making every day of our short time on earth count. JJ’s contributions to developing our Vascular Fellowship and growing our Department of Surgery will be a lasting legacy. He will not be forgotten.’’

Born and raised in Nepal, Dr. Karmacharya had returned home to visit his ailing mother and introduce her to Natalie Neilan, 35, a blood flow technologist he met at the VA. On Sunday morning, the couple decided to take a sightseeing flight over the Himalayas, including Mount Everest, with Dr. Karmacharya’s brother and sister-in-law, Nirajan and Sarada Karmacharya. But buffeted by bad weather, the plane never made it to its destination and, according to news reports from Nepal, crashed in foggy weather while trying to land on the northeastern outskirts of the Kathmandu Valley. Nirajan Karmacharya initially survived the crash, but died while being treated in a hospital. All other 18 people aboard died at the scene.

A board-certified surgeon licensed in Florida, California and Pennsylvania, Dr. Karmacharya earned his medical degree from the University of Calcutta in 1990. He followed his initial postgraduate training in Nepal with four years of surgical residency in Glasgow, Scotland, where he was a fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons and Physicians. He then spent three years at the University of Pennsylvania as a research fellow, followed by a general surgical residency and a vascular surgical fellowship.

It was at Penn that Dr. Karmacharya met Omaida Velazquez, M.D., who persuaded him to join her as her right-hand person when she was recruited to the Miller School as professor and chief of the Division of Vascular and Endovascular Surgery. She said the untimely passing of her longtime friend and colleague is a tremendous loss to the University and the medical community around South Florida and Philadelphia.

“My deepest condolences extend to his young son, his mother and his brothers,’’ Velasquez said. “JJ’s passing has created a void in the Division of Vascular Surgery; however, his many contributions will remain with us in the years ahead. JJ, we will never know why you left us so suddenly, but thanks for the many beautiful memories and dedication to duty.”

Since his arrival three years ago, Dr. Karmacharya distinguished himself as an educator and busy clinician at the VA hospital, University of Miami Hospital, and Jackson Memorial Hospital. He was instrumental in securing accreditation from the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education for the Vascular Surgery Fellowship this year, which he directed.

In addition to his mother, Dr. Karmacharya is survived by a teen-aged son and two brothers; Neilan is survived by a 2-year-old son, her mother, two sisters and nieces and nephews in Georgia. The Department of Surgery is planning a memorial service and a fund in Dr. Karmacharya’s memory, and will announce the details at a later date.

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