Belfast Telegraph

It's not brain surgery... how Belfast doctor prepared for Bear Grylls' survival show

Mr Mano Shanmuganathan, better known as Doctor Mano, is a Belfast surgeon
Mr Mano Shanmuganathan, better known as Doctor Mano, is a Belfast surgeon
Sarah Tulloch

By Sarah Tulloch

Belfast surgeon Mano Shanmuganathan has revealed how he prepared to spend 35 days on a desert island for Bear Grylls' survival show Treasure Island.

Based at the Royal Victoria Hospital, Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children and Kingsbridge Private Hospital, he is one of two paediatric neurosurgeons that serve Northern Ireland.

The 42-year-old said his island experience wasn't unlike his "varied and exciting days" in the hospital.

"I'm a surgeon so I never go into an operation not knowing what I'm going to do. You can prepare and it was the same with Treasure Island. I knew I needed water, fire, shelter and food."

Mano turned to chef pals Andy Rea of Mourne Seafood Bar and Danny Millar, former head chef for Balloo Inns, for advice on how to prepare meals on the island.

He said: "Andy brought loads of different fish. I'd never gutted a fish so he taught me how to gut and prepare it, what would work and what wouldn't.

"He looked at the eyeballs and said, 'You can eat those.' And I thought, 'You're disgusting.'

"What did I do on the island? I ate those eyeballs.

He added: "I built myself a bow drill. I wanted to know how to light a fire if I had to. I also learnt knots. These are predictable things I knew I would have to do on an island.

What was incredible to me was that some people rocked up and thought it was going to be easy. Mano Shanmuganathan

"They thought they'd be carried through it and no one was going to let them die, which is true, but you were going to get dog sick. You were going to get cold. You were going to eat 100 calories a day, if that.

"I ate a bit more beforehand and got to over 14 stone. I looked like a Malteaser. Only when I saw the first episode did I realise I was round, but it was good preparation - I had fat reserves to burn into."

In the first episode of the show, which aired on Sunday, upon finding a water source, an exhausted but ecstatic Mano said: "I'll never take water for granted - ever."

The surgeon said the experience changed his "whole perspective" on our unlimited access to clean water.

"There was a puddle. It was brown. It had leaves and insects in it but it wasn't salty, so it was our lifeline," he added. "I cried when I got off the island and into a shower for the first time. We take that for granted."

Mano lives in Belfast with his wife and two young children, who he said are "buzzing" to see him on TV.

"They can't wait to see what happens. We had a screening in Stoker's Halt on Sunday. We invited friends and we did a little collection and raised £500 for Helping Hand, the children's hospital charity."

The London native has been living in Belfast for just over five years, but now sees it as home and has a passion for all things local.

"I was working at Great Ormond Street Hospital when I got a call from a colleague in Belfast who said there was a job over here," he added.

"'I know you'll only think of The Troubles, bombs, people who don't get on, but Belfast, it's not bad,' he told me. But what I realise now is 'not bad' is actually really good."

In 2016, the surgeon was hailed for saving the life of Lurgan toddler Karlie Toland, who was born with her brain outside her skull.

He added: "What's amazing about living here is the laws of the land mean that certain children who, in other parts of the United Kingdom may have been aborted, are not.

"Parents feel very strongly about their babies and they will pick up on anomalies. Brain anomalies can be quite significant, quite terrible, but very few people actually know what happens to them afterwards because if the children are going to be aborted, that's it. It's self-fulfilling.

"Because I've had instances of looking after very unusual brain abnormalities, parents come to me when children are born and I have to make decisions with them.

"For every Karlie, there are about five others out there I know that would have had a completely different life, or no life, but are now doing brilliantly well.

"It isn't easy. The neurological aspects of it are varied but the whole point is that one outcome is death, the other one is different. I'll be criticised for that but to those families, we made a difference."

Treasure Island with Bear Grylls airs on Channel 4, Sundays at 9pm

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