In this interview
he traces the progressive development of this medical specialty in India and
how successful outcomes encourage more and more parents to bring their children
for corrective heart surgeries and take home healthier babies.
How did you get
interested in Pediatric Cardiology?
Paediatrics and Hematology always fascinated me while I
was in Medical College. However I was disenchanted with Hematology seeing the
number of leukemic deaths in the 1980s. I sort of gravitated towards general
pediatrics and was at it from 1984-87. I pursued the subject further at the
Royal Children's Hospital in Melbourne, Australia. I returned to work with Dr.
K.M. Cherian and later at the Southern Railway Hospital at Perambur. After
another stint abroad I returned to work in Sri Ramachandra Medical College (SRMC) in Chennai and I am here since 1994.
Pediatric Cardiology has always been a challenging field
especially in the 1980s in India, when parents were skeptical about medical
treatment for their babies with defective hearts. They assumed the baby would
anyhow die and preferred not to "trouble" the baby with the rigors of hospital
treatment. Also Pediatric Cardiology was in its nascent stage in India. In
fact, only Delhi, Chennai and CMC Vellore had one or two Pediatric Cardiology
teams consisting of a Pediatric surgeon and an anesthetist. It is an entirely
different scenario now. Successful outcomes are encouraging more and more
parents to bring their babies for cardiac treatment.
How difficult was
it convincing people that children's heart ailments could be successfully
treated in India?
Strangely, even medical experts were doubtful about the
possibility in India at one time. We published an article from SRMC in an
International Journal about our success rate of treating children's heart
ailments. An expert committee thought we had cooked up results to show that 39
of the 40 children who had heart operation, survived. They double checked and
were only then convinced of the high success rate. Children are precious and it
is heartening to see parents leaving hospitals with their babies cured of heart
ailments after successful treatment. Now we successfully operate even on
newborn infants from day one after birth.
How do you guide
parents when they find the medical costs of treating their child's heart
problem a big burden?
Cardiac treatments are expensive. But once parents decide
to get their child treated for cardiac problems I see to it that money is never
an issue. We try to tap the Prime Minister's or Chief Minister's fund. We ask
the parents to seek help from the general public through notices in
newspapers—that invariably gets a good response. Philanthropic individuals and
cine actors' welfare associations - particularly actor Vikram's Fans Club and
Women's Welfare Syndicate have tapped sources to help parents meet the medical
costs of treating their children. Parents of children who have been
successfully treated often pitch in voluntarily to help other parents in dire
need of money to support a child's medical treatment.
Do you see many
parents bring their children affected with heart complications due to Down
Parents with children affected by Down syndrome
complications harbor deep pain and anxiety. The first thing I do is reassure
them that their child will grow up to be healthy and bring happiness to them
like any other child—maybe in different ways. With more and more awareness
about Down syndrome, early referrals and health intervention, a little help,
acceptance and care from those around, these "gentle" individuals affected by
Down syndrome can join mainstream society and live a near-normal life. I see
this happening with many of my young patients.
Can you recall a challenging
medical case for our readers?
Almost all pediatric problems that I've treated have been
unique and challenging. If I have to single out one case—it is a 45-day-old
baby who was brought in from another state in India with severe complications such
hydrocephalus (an outsized head), cleft lips and extremely fatal cardiac
defects. We swung into action immediately. We operated on the baby's heart and
corrected heart defects, a neurosurgeon used a cerebral shunt and brought the
head size to normal and the cleft lips were repaired. Today I have immense
satisfaction in saying that the child has grown to be more than normal—is a
school topper in fact!
Many of your
medical papers are published in international research journals. Do you still
find time for research amidst your busy work?
I have always had a keen interest in research and try to
make time for research and publishing papers in journals.
Is it true that
more babies are born with defective hearts than before? Does it have anything
to do with modern lifestyle and diet?
No. That more babies are born now with defective hearts
is only media hype. Increase in population, more awareness about heart diseases
and more referrals for cardiac treatment could be reasons for more cases of
children with heart ailments surfacing for public attention.
What is your vision
for pediatric cardiology in India?
I am happy to see more young doctors than before, opting
to specialize in this field in India. The Tamil Nadu government's state sponsored health insurance
scheme that has a tie-up with insurance companies and private hospitals to
serve the medical needs of patients below poverty line is very encouraging.
A lot many parents from remote
villages who had earlier helplessly watched their babies die due to lack of
awareness and money for medical treatment are now using the government health
insurance scheme and walking out of hospitals cheerfully after successful free
treatment for their children. This scheme is now operative only in a few
southern states in India. I wish other states would implement similar schemes
so that more young children enjoy healthy lives with early health intervention.
Medindia wishes Dr. M.S. Ranjit continuing success in his remarkable
task of mending children's hearts and gladdening the hearts of worried parents.