Nov.20, 2015: My “Now” Ties In To My “Why” – And Right Now, It’s (Kinda) Messy!
“I don’t accept a child dying”
The words I first read in highschool in an interview by a pediatric neurosurgeon in Reader’s Digest magazine has guided my professional work as a heart surgeon.
In 2003 I set up a non-profit to sponsor costly treatment for children with Congenital Heart Disease (CHD) from underprivileged families.
Over a decade, the effort has treated 124 children. But that’s just a drop in the ocean.
Today, there are 21 MILLION children who suffer from the ravages of CHD. 1.35 million more are born with it every year. Many of them live in my part of the world.
Reluctantly, I’m forced to admit that this strategy can’t scale fast enough to be effective. Simultaneously, new developments in science and technology offer a glimmer of hope that’s growing steadily brighter.
Maybe there are other, better ways to tackle the problem. Which brings us to…
What if we can identify the genetic errors which cause congenital heart disease?
And then fix them, even as a heart developed inside the womb?
15 years ago, this was a fond dream. Today, technology is helping rapidly catch up with it. Soon, genetic engineering and interventional genomics could make CHD treatment simpler, faster, cheaper, and more effective.
A genetic cure might save thousands – even millions – of children.
Will it happen? Can it work? When?
I don’t know. But I’m going to try and find out.
That’s my “NOW” – and here’s what it involves:
- Study genomics. Find out all I can. To assess its potential – and how it may help treat CHD.
- Genomics research. Nothing beats hands-on experience. I’m engaged in 2 studies with whole genome sequencing – one for kids, another for the elderly.
- A demographic survey of heart disease risk in 100,000 Indians. Not directly linked to my “Why?” but leverages my expertise and education to a good end.
- Consulting with a healthcare start-up geared to democratize heart health care and provide heart attack advisory to patients anywhere in the country.
- Writing and marketing my ebooks and infoproducts, to raise funds that partly go to funding heart operations.
- Reading extensively to widen my knowledge, gain precious new insights and stay updated with happenings around the world.
My favorite biography, ‘Mountains Beyond Mountains’ by Tracy Kidder, is about Dr.Paul Farmer who transformed healthcare in Haiti and parts of Africa through his non-profit work at Partners In Health.
Toward the end, it shares a philosophy.
You decide to climb a mountain. You scale the peak. Exult in your accomplishment. Sit back to enjoy the view. And only then do you realize that what you just climbed was one of a range of mountains.
Some soar higher. Other peaks are more jagged. And there are many, many more of them than you could see from the ground. To even view them, you had to scale the first!
‘Mountains Beyond Mountains’ is an aphorism for life, and any challenge you set yourself.
Mine is to tackle the burden of Congenital Heart Disease. And in a broader sense, other diseases.
So I’m making another effort to scale Mount CHD.
Because I, too, will not accept a child dying.
Wish me luck!