The Good Samaritan

Wednesday, Jun 22, 2005

The Hindu (Online edition of India’s National Newspaper)

Dr Gopichand with one of his little patients. His puzzled looks seem to convey something to his mother Vani, but he is too small and feeble to express it. The only consolation he gets is some continuous caressing from parents Vani and Sudhakar, but there is also little the couple from Khanapur, Warangal, could do to alleviate the agony of their seven-month old yet-to-be named son, who faced the surgical scissors to escape the jaws of death.

A month after the child was born Sudhakar and Vani were distressed to know that the little one was diagnosed with a hole in the heart. Doctors in Warangal suggested the child be taken to Hyderabad for surgery. With the meager Rs. 2,500 earnings, Sudhakar lacked the wherewithal to go for the expensive surgery that would cost Rs. One Lakh. The couple had almost given hope of their child, when they happened to come across P. Jairaj Kumar, a businessman. The latter in turn got touch with Gopichand Mannam, chief of cardio-thoracic surgery, who immediately volunteered to perform a free surgery on the child at the Care Hospital, Banjara Hills. The couple now feel ever indebted to the doctor for the gesture.

In the case of B. Shanmuga Chary, a retired RTC Inspector he had spent about Rs.1.5 lakh for his 22-year old unmarried daughter Srujana’s heart’s surgery. Father of four unmarried daughters, Chary had to foot the bill from his retirement benefits savings. With hardly any savings left, Chari was helpless when, Gopichand on coming to know of his plight offered to waive the bill completely.

For Gopichand who is a claimant to several unique operations, performing such free surgeries is nothing new. He seems to be on a record-breaking spree by performing hundreds of such free heart operations on children. The city- based doctor has swelled his own scorecard with 400 free heart operations on children. Apart from that he is also credited with the claim of having performed 4,000 operations on the general public.

Unique Surgeries

His forte being, congenital cardiac surgery and coronary artery bypass surgery on a beating heart, Gopichand was the first to do a heart transplantation using an undersized heart. The donor in that case was a 10-year old boy and the recipient was 23 years. Soft and affable, Dr. Gopichand Mannam has many other “first” to his chequered career. He was the first to do the minimally invasive ASD closure, first robotic heart surgery in southern India and also an open- heart surgery with a 6 cm incision. Gopichand has now come out with another innovative project-Hrudaya a non- profit organization to comprehensively deal with heart problems in children under 12 years of age. His friends have started a similar foundation called “Cure a Little Heart” in the United States to help Hrudaya realize its Mission.

According to Gopichand, the trust is being set up with an initial amount of $ 250,000 . A number of well meaning individuals including a top film personality from the city has come forward to contribute to the cause. Several doctors and NRIs working in the US have also expressed their desire to make their contribution for the trust, says Gopichand.

Joint Efforts Needed
Every year about two lakh children require heart surgery in the country. Depending upon the nature of the surgery, it costs anything between Rs. 75,000 to Rs. four lakh. “Since it is beyond the capacity of any government to provide for the treatment of such large number, it is the duty of all sections of society to contribute its might for the cause,” says Gopichand.

He argues that even in developed countries like the US and UK, NGOs, corporate houses, individuals and Government agencies coordinate their activities to provide Medicare for the citizens. The Government had been approached for providing tax exemptions towards contributions made to the trust, he adds.