In 1938, the communist General Zhu De requested Jawaharlal Nehru to send Indian physicians to China during the Second Sino-Japanese War to help the soldiers. The President of the Indian National Congress, Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose accepted the request and made arrangements to send a team of volunteer doctors. A medical team of five doctors was sent as the part of Indian Medical Mission Team in September 1938. The medical team comprised of M. Atal, M. Cholkar, D. Kotnis (28 years), B.K. Basu and D. Mukerji. All other doctors except Dr. Kotnis, returned back to India.
However, Dr. Kotnis decided to stay back and serve at the military base. He initially started his work in Yan’an and then went to the anti-Japanese base area in North China where he worked in the surgical department of the Eighth Route Army General Hospital as the physician-in-charge. His job as a battlefront doctor was stressful, where there was always an acute shortage of medicines. In one long-drawn out battle against Japanese troops in 1940, Dr. Kotnis performed operations for up to 72 hours, without getting any sleep. He treated more than 800 wounded soldiers during the battle. He was eventually appointed as the Director of the Dr. Bethune International Peace Hospital named after the famous Canadian surgeon Norman Bethune.
In 1940, Dr. Kotnis met Guo Qinglan, a nurse at the Bethune Hospital. The couple got married in December 1941. They had a son, who was named Yinhua – meaning India (Yin) and China (Hua). The hardship of the stressful job as a front-line doctor finally started to take its toll on him and severely affected his health. Only three months after the birth of Yinhua, epilepsy struck Dr.Kotnis. A series of epileptic seizures proved fatal to the young doctor and he passed away on 9 December 1942. To commemorate his death and his unparalleled contribution to humanity, the Chinese government erected a memorial hall and issued government stamps on the loving memory of his name. Dr. Kotnis has been commemorated with the Canadian Dr. Bethune in the Martyrs’ Memorial Park in Shijiazhuang with the entire south side of the memorial dedicated to Dr. Kotnis.