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The man who made many hearts beat. An interview with cardiac surgeon Dr K M Cherian

Dr Priscilla J S Selvaraj Dr Priscilla J S Selvaraj 5 Mins Read

Dr Priscilla J S Selvaraj Dr Priscilla J S Selvaraj


The world-renowned cardiac surgeon, Padma Shri Dr K M Cherian, speaks about his childhood, his pet cause of organ donation and his grandchildren in an interview with ParentCircle

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The man who made many hearts beat. An interview with cardiac surgeon Dr K M Cherian

"Wherever the art of medicine is loved, there is also a love of humanity," said Hippocrates, the Father of Medicine.

Dr K M Cherian, who is the only Indian whose name is engraved in stone on the island of Kos, Greece (birthplace of Hippocrates) bears testimony to these words. It is evident in the innumerable lives he has saved by wielding the scalpel.


Q. Can you share with us what made you choose medicine as a profession? And, more specifically 'cardiology' for your specialization.

A: I was born in 1942, in the month of March; six months before I was born, a Badaga chief from Munnar told my mother (when he saw her vomiting early in the morning) that she was carrying a boy and that he will be born on a Sunday, midday and that he will have a mole on the right wrist and that he will become a doctor who will operate on the heart. How he predicted it everything... I still don't know. But it all happened. I was born on a Sunday, midday and two days later my grandmother found the mole on my wrist, when I grew up, I became a cardiac surgeon.

Of course, so many things happened in between. Even in my school days, I was very much interested in seeing how the heart works; so, I used to catch small lizards or mice, dissect them and see how the heart works. It was one of my hobbies. Later, after finishing MS surgery from Mangalore, I became a lecturer in Surgery at CMC Vellore. Then, I went to Australia as a migrant in 1970. There, even though at that time there was White Australia policy, I had the opportunity to work in St Vincent's hospital as Senior Registrar of Cardiothoracic surgery. This is how I became a cardiac surgeon.

Later, when I came back to India and worked at the Railway hospital, I had the opportunity to do my first bypass surgery. So, you see, I was in the right place, at the right time, with the right people. And, that is what is called fate or luck. Of course, hard work is also important. It is said that if you work hard, in fact, the harder you work the luckier you will become; so, that is very true in my case.

Q. Which quality of yours has helped you make a mark in this profession, especially as a cardiac surgeon?

A. Hard work and commitment. When you work hard and are committed, you will look for ways and means to try and innovate and make meaningful contributions. That is what is important. I am not an intelligent fellow; I was an average student. But after I grew up I learned to be very committed. I also realized, at quite a young age, that I was good with my hands. Even at the age of five or six, I used to make pots and pans with clay. And, when I was ten I made a statue of Mahatma Gandhi. I also had a mechanical bent of mind not mathematical - I used to repair all the old timepieces, even for my neighbors.

This has, I believe, especially helped me to become a good pediatric cardiac surgeon. Because, at that time, the diagnostic facilities were very limited.

Q. You've been an advocate for organ donation. How do you think we can sensitize both parents and children about this cause?

A. It is not necessary to have a separate forum for that. It all depends on the mentality of the people. As India is a superstitious country with many religions and cultural backgrounds, there are a lot of difficulties here. Tamil Nadu has taken a lead in that and we are getting maximum transplants done here. However, we should be cautious against commercialism. Of course, we have started the practice of organ donation cards being carried along with driving licenses; ultimately, it all depends on the people, the family, the society. I'm sure more and more people are coming forward...

Q. Your granddaughter Sharon Joy has been selected to attend the National Student Leadership Conference (NSLC) at Harvard Medical School, Massachusetts, and the Global Young Leaders Conference at Washington DC and New York. Tell us more about it.

A. She had the advantage of being born in the US and having studied there up to the 7th standard. She had a lot of advantages, especially her presentation of the subject, the way she thinks... She is not a bookworm. She doesn't study at home at all. It's the same with her sister also. They are not bookworms. Whatever homework they have, they will do it sitting in the car between home and school. I'm very glad that both have done extremely well in their studies.

As far as Sharon is concerned, as I told you, she has the background, she can speak on any topic, she was selected to attend these conferences and she has made use of it. She has a big future. One day, she wants to become a doctor, another day she says, "I want to become a doctor but will practise family medicine or public health." More than what she is going to do, what matters is that she has sympathy. Having come back to India from the US and seeing the difficulties of the people here is what has motivated her to go in for public health.

Q. Amidst your busy schedule, how do you manage to take out time for your grandchildren?

A. Whenever I have time and whenever they have time, I take them out for dinner or lunch or we'll go for a movie, maybe once in two or three months. I definitely try to be with them. I know it is important, especially in Sharon and Sherin's case. They lost their father early. I am both their grandfather and father - a dual role for me to play. These things will happen in life. One has to face these things, but it will make the kids tougher. They will become more individualistic with their own identity rather than hanging around their parents.

Q. Any message for children?

A. The most important thing is you have to recognize what inherent talent you have. And, be committed, motivated and work hard. Don't be materialistic. If you think money is going to keep you contented. You're wrong. What is important is, whatever profession you take up, try to be the best in that. That is the best contentment, not money.

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