16 February 2011
By Malathy Iyer
Nair Hospital Team Introduced Revolutionary Method In India
"It was here in Nair Hospital on February 15, 1961, that Dr K N Dastur performed the country’s first open–heart surgery to fix the hole in 19–year–old Hemlata’s heart," said Nair Hospital dean Dr R Rananavre on Tuesday. Two surviving members of that team, urologist Dr F P Soonawala and technician P Patel, were on the dais and received a standing ovation.
Speakers said the Nair team’s achievement should be viewed against the ground realities of that time. "Now we can easily import devices but 50 years back it was next to impossible to import a device or any equipment," said Dr K Nagale, the current head of Nair Hospital’s cardiothoracic department. Dr Dastur, who worked as an honorary doctor at the hospital, drew a blueprint of a heart–lung machine and approached a steel manufacturer to make it for which he pooled in his own money. "They then conducted canine experiments before performing the first operation," said the dean.
The biggest achievement of Nair Hospital’s surgery was the fact that it led to the setting up of open heart surgery units in various hospitals across the city and the country. "Dr Dastur himself set up the departments at Breach Candy and Nanavati Hospitals," said Dr Soonawalla.
Dr Dastur’s contemporary Dr B Kalke talked about the need for better laboratory research facilities in the country. "Although Dr Dastur performed the surgery in 1961, he began his laboratory work four to five years earlier. In the West, it would not have taken so long as they have better resources. We have to include laboratory work as part of the medical curriculum so that we can evolve to an extent to become the leaders," he said.
The civic–run hospital conducts 700 heart surgeries every year in its two operation theatres. "The auspicious start was made by Dr Dastur and his team 50 years back," added Dr Nagle.
- Dr K N Dastur was the cardiothoracic surgeon who performed India’s first open heart surgery on a 19–yearold girl, Hemlata, on February 15, 1961. She was the daughter of an IAS officer and had a hole in her heart
- One of his assistants was Dr F P Sonawalla, who is now better known as Mumbai’s top urologist
- A lab technician, P Patel, was also present at the golden jubilee celebrations on Tuesday
- The team had to begin from scratch. As imports of devices and equipment (say a heart lung machine) was next to impossible in the 1950s, the Nair Hospital team indigenously put together its surgical armoury
- A heart lung machine was built with the help of an Indian company. An oxygen meter was also made locally
- Then began surgery classes with the surgeons operating on canines to perfect their techniques. "The entire process took over four to five years," said a doctor
What Is Open Heart Surgery?
- The term open heart surgery refers to an operation in which the rib cage is spread open, the heart is stopped and the body’s blood is put through a heart–lung machine. Then, a malfunctioning heart valve or blocked coronary artery is surgically repaired