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'We are putting India on a different plane'

By Shobha Warrier
October 19, 2010 19:52 IST
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Dr K M CherianFor the first time in 20 years, the World Congress of the World Society of Cardio Thoracic Surgeons will be held in India.

The man who received the honour of hosting the event is eminent cardiac surgeon, Dr K M Cherian and his Frontier Lifeline Hospital.

The convention is scheduled to take place from October 20 to 23, at the Chennai Trade Centre. Over 1,500 delegates -- including 1,000 participants from over 90 countries -- will attend the conference.

Along with the 20th World Congress will be held the 6th Global Forum on Humanitarian Medicine in Cardiology and Cardiac Surgery.

As the World Congress has adopted 'Global Green New Deal' as the theme for the 20th World Congress and the 6th Global Forum this year, the main attraction of the event is the presence of Nobel Peace Prize winner and former US vice-president Al Gore. He will inaugurate the World Congress and deliver the theme oration for the event.

In this exclusive interview with's Shobha Warrier, Dr Cherian discusses the international conference and his dream medical village.

This is the 20th World Congress and it is coming to India for the first time. How did you bring it to India?

They wanted to give a chance to one of the Asian countries because it has been happening either in Europe or North America.

Another reason is we have 18 to 20 international publications every year and no other hospital in India or Asia has these many publications.

Our basic scientific publications are much more than Australia and New Zealand put together.

Two days ago, we operated from 3.30 am to 2 pm. We were doing a lung transplant and a heart transplant at the same time. The lung transplant was done on a patient from Japan and the heart patient was from Mumbai.

Our heart transplant results are comparable to any other hospital in the world.

Last year we did 24 transplants and there was no mortality. This is also one reason why we were chosen as the host.

Will the World Congress in India change the way the world looks at India as far medicine is concerned?

Of course, it will. Eminent doctors from 42 countries will be here. They are the opinion makers. They will go back with a certain opinion of our country.

We are putting India on a different plane.

Is there any difference in the way developed countries and developing countries perform cardio-thoracic surgery?

The difference is in this. A few days ago, there was a man waiting here for a heart, and there was a heart in Coimbatore. These people are ready to bring the heart here on a flight.

But the problem is we don't have an aircraft waiting here in Chennai. We only have one in Bangalore.

Just think of the time it takes for the heart to reach the airport in Coimbatore.

In all, it may take more than two-and-a-half hours for the heart to reach the patient. And a heart will not survive for more than 3 to 4 hours.

Here, you have to take a risk with the patient.

In a developed country, if a heart is available in Frankfurt, it can be flown by a special jet to London or Paris. I am talking about two different countries, and it will not take more than one hour. This is the difference.

More than 15 years ago when I interviewed you, you said nothing is possible in a country where the ambulance is not given the way and they are stuck in traffic jams...

Even today, I see ambulances stuck in traffic jams. Nobody gives way for an ambulance.

This is what differentiates a developed and a developing country; it is not expertise or technology. It is in the infrastructure that we are behind and also in the discipline of the people. We are indisciplined.

What is the Global Forum on Humanitarian Medicine in Cardiology and Cardiac Surgery?

The forum helps countries that do not have medical facilities or expertise. The Italian team of surgeons, anaesthetists, etc coming for this meeting wants to help after the talk.

I told them to help the patients in the St Gregorious Hospital in rural Parimala (in the Pathanamthitta district in Kerala) where we have a small unit.

It is the only cardiac tertiary care hospital in a village anywhere in the world. These Italian doctors also know about the hospital.

Is that the reason why you have clubbed the World Congress with the Global Forum on Humanitarian medicine?

Yes, that is why it is clubbed. These doctors will go to Parimala after the conference and operate on ten children free of cost.

In return, we also will do the same for them. They have a program in the Cameroon Islands. They have requested me to help them.

So, we as a team will operate poor patients in Cameroon next year free of cost.

This forum helps poor people all over the world and it is supported mainly by rich countries. There are Italians, French, Canadians, Americans and Germans in the forum.

The World Congress has adopted 'Global Green New Deal' as the theme which Al Gore will inaugurate. Has it been like that in the earlier Congress too?

Global Green New Deal is the motto of the UNEP (United Nations Environment Programme) and it has nothing to do with the World Congress of Cardiac Thoracic Surgery.

2010 is the year of Global Green. That is why we have requested Al Gore to come, and he has agreed to inaugurate the World Congress.

It is to show the concern we, as a small institution, have for the environment.

We have planted more than 34,000 saplings of more than 600 varieties of trees in the medical village in Elavur in north Chennai. I have got among many other things, seven varieties of Tulasi, eight varieties of jasmine, etc.

Each star in the Malayalam calendar has one tree, and I have all the trees there, and that is my zodiac garden.

In five years's time, it will be a forest. We have man-made lakes for rain water harvesting.

Was Al Gore surprised at the way you, a doctor, are campaigning for green issues?

That is one of the reasons he is coming here. His thematic speech is Thinking Green.

I plan to take him to the medical village in Elavur.

I am 67 years old, and if I can see things for another five years, I will see a forest there. I will have a sandalwood forest, red sandal forest, arjuna forest, rosewood forest, ebony forest, etc.

Everyone speaks about medical tourism. Tourism, environmentalists complain, can ruin the local environment. What is your opinion on medical tourism?

Medical tourism is a word coined by the corporate sector. Even before corporate hospitals came into existence in India, I was operating patients from Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Pakistan.

But that was in the Railway Hospital, and we were not interested in talking about it and medical tourism and publicising it.

Photograph: Sreeram Selvaraj

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Shobha Warrier in Chennai