Written by Team ParentCircle and published on 25 August 2021.
This book is a collection of stories about ten Indians from different fields who help improve the lives of others and empower them to live with dignity. Here we bring you an excerpt from one of the stories from the book: 'The healer of damaged hearts', the story of Dr Devi Shetty, a renowned cardiac surgeon, and a torchbearer in the field of Indian medicine
How many of you wanted to be a doctor when you were little? Maybe some of you still do when you grow up. As small children, did you have a miniature doctors’ set, with a plastic stethoscope, tiny scalpels, pill boxes and cotton wool to play with? Many of us are fascinated by surgery when we are young. The idea that broken bones and unwell organs can be fixed by cutting open the body, then sewing it back together with thread and needle almost sounds like something out of a fairy tale.
But beyond fairy tales, in the real world we live in, there are surgeons who have the incredible gift of putting us to sleep, opening our bodies, mending any flaws inside it, then stitching it back together before waking us up from our slumber. And most of the time, lo and behold, our bodies bounce back to robust health; such is the miracle of modern medicine. Dr Devi Shetty is one such healer, specializing in repairing damaged hearts and treating ones that are ill. His knowledge is vast and skill exceptional, especially as a surgeon who operates on babies as young as a few days old. The heart of an infant that age is about the size of a walnut, or even smaller, so you can imagine the care and confidence a surgeon needs to have in order to operate on such a tiny and delicate organ!
Thousands of babies in India are born with defective hearts every year, which can give rise to serious health conditions, from breathing trouble to their little bodies turning blue due to lack of oxygen in the bloodstream. In most cases where a baby is born with one or more holes in its heart, the condition is treatable, but needs to be addressed swiftly. Any delay can cause lasting damage to the baby’s systems and, in the worst-case scenario, death. But medical treatment of this nature is usually prohibitively expensive for most people, especially in a country like ours, families can seldom afford to shell out a huge sum of money at short notice.
Apart from being a surgeon with rare abilities, Dr Shetty also found a solution to cutting down the costs of heart surgeries, including the possibility of treating thousands of children and adults free of cost. Indeed, he has proved to the world that in order to be a good doctor, it is not enough to acquire knowledge from years of study and hands-on practice. A visionary physician like Dr Shetty is someone with immense compassion, aware of the hardships of the people around him and born with a unique fighting spirit, one that pushes him to seek solutions when faced with hardships, instead of meekly surrendering himself to fate. A deeply committed doctor is someone who has his heart in the right place, before he undertakes to heal the ailing hearts of others.
Dr Shetty was born in 1953 in the Dakshina Kannada district of Karnataka, the eighth of nine children. By the time he was a young boy, his parents were already middle-aged, not keeping well and frequently in and out of hospitals. His childhood was spent in fear of losing his mother to disease, Dr Shetty told an interviewer many years later. Yet, even at a young age, he was aware of someone called a ‘doctor’, who had the amazing power to heal his mother and keep her alive. And so, early on, he decided to become a doctor himself when he grew up.
There was another big factor behind this ambition. In 1967, while he was still a school student, Dr Shetty heard of a world-famous doctor called Christian Barnard, a South African who had, for the first time, performed a human-
to-human heart transplant. In an unheard-of feat of daring, Dr Barnard took out the heart of an accident victim and put it into the chest of a fifty-four-year-old man.
Although the recipient died of complications brought on by pneumonia eighteen days after the surgery, the successful transplant procedure was a landmark in the history of medicine, word of which spread around the globe and reached the ears of a young boy in India. Inspired, Dr Shetty set on his career path, by first becoming a medical student in India, followed by a stint at Guy’s Hospital in London, where he had the experience of operating on patients.
From the very beginning, Dr Shetty had incredible stamina, the capacity to work for long hours without a break. At Guy’s, he took on weekend duties and signed up to perform as many surgeries as he could, sometimes without checking with his supervisor first. Although he was initially scolded for exceeding his call of duty, the senior doctors soon discovered he was unusually talented and stopped objecting to these indiscretions.
In 1989, Dr Shetty returned to India after spending several years in the UK, armed with the FRCS, or Fellowship of the Royal Colleges of Surgeons, qualification, which allowed him to practice as a senior surgeon in Ireland or the UK. He could have easily settled abroad and had a flourishing career there, but he had made a pledge to himself to help the millions in his country who were suffering from, or dying of, heart diseases. So he joined the BM Birla hospital in Kolkata as a cardiac surgeon (cardiac is the medical term for anything related to the heart). Soon after, Dr Shetty made a splash by performing India’s first neonatal surgery, which, in plain English, means surgery on a newborn baby. His patient was nine days old. The entire nation was awestruck by Dr Shetty’s daring and technical mastery, most of all his calm confidence.
Since then, Dr Shetty has performed over 15,000 heart surgeries in India.
|Title: 10 Indian Heroes Who Help People Live With Dignity|
|Author: Somak Ghoshal|
|Published by: Penguin|
|Price: INR 199|
|Ages: 10 and above|
Published online with permission