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65-year-old American gets an Indian heart

Special Correspondent

CHENNAI: Nearly 25 years ago, Prathap C. Reddy, a cardiologist set up a hospital in Chennai after he lost a patient who could not afford to go to the United States for surgery. At Apollo Hospitals, things have come full circle since, with a 65-year old American undergoing a heart transplant here.

In the process, two records were also created. The patient was not only the first U.S. citizen to undergo a heart transplant in India, but he was also the oldest person to undergo a heart transplant in the country, Paul Ramesh, primary consultant cardiac surgeon who performed the surgery said.

The recipients, thanks to Coronary Artery Disease, had a previous bypass surgery, had stents placed inside his heart and had a pacemaker. Despite all this, his heart function was about 28 per cent and in January, doctors back home in Minneapolis told him that he required a heart transplant within a year, failing which he would die, T. Sunder, consultant cardiac surgeon, Apollo Hospitals, explained.

However, the American recounted in a press conference on Thursday, it could have taken him a year and a half to get a heart back home.

He had meanwhile, read of the facilities for heart transplant in India, checked with some friends and decided to make the trip to India to get a new heart.

Overlooked objections

He overlooked the strong opinions of doctors in Minneapolis who warned him against coming to India, reciting horror stories of unacceptable levels of quality in health care and professional standards.

“We could easily handle the case. The only unpredictability was whether we would get a donor for him that had us thinking,” Dr. Ramesh said. As per the Transplantation of Human Organs Act, a cadaveric organ can be used on a non-Indian patient only if a local/national recipient cannot be found.

The American and his wife of six months landed up in Chennai and had to wait for the heart.

They waited for six months, with the patient's condition deteriorating over that period.

M.R. Girinath, chief cardio vascular surgeon, explained that the chances of finding a heart that was immunologically and physically compatible with the recipient were rather low.

But On the night of July 21, the American got really lucky. A brain dead donor's 36-year old heart was available but there were no other takers.

Mr. Girinath called up the State co-ordinator for the Cadaver Transplant Programme seeking a go-ahead to use the heart on the foreigner.

Once the sanction came, the hospital performed the transplant, working eight hours to put an Indian heart into an American.

The patient has since been discharged and as his wife says, looks 15 years younger.

He now climbs stairs and is even raring to tango with his wife, making a “magical” recovery.

The surgery and post-operative phase cost him about 50,000 USD.

Speaking on the occasion, Dr. Reddy said while cadaver donation had started off in a big way in Tamil Nadu, “we are still not using all the hearts that become available for transplantation.”

The next step would be optimal utilisation of all the hearts from cadaveric donors to save the lives of many more people.

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