Dr. Devi Shetty | Jo Tempest

Yet again I have come across another compassionate and amazing man known as ‘The King of Hearts’. I watched a documentary on his hospital that runs at a profit, and had to learn more about him, so here is his story.

Dr Devi Prasad Shetty was born May 1953 in Karnataka, India. He was the eighth of nine children and wanted to be a doctor, or more precisely, a cardiac surgeon.

On completing his graduate degree in Medicine, Dr Shetty went to work in General Surgery in Mangalore. Later, he left for England and trained in the excellent Guy’s Hospital, specializing in cardiac surgery.

When he was 36 years old, he returned to India where he initially worked at the B.M. Birla Hospital in Kolkata.

It was at this hospital he probably became one of the most famous cardiac surgeons in the world when he operated on Mother Theresa after her heart attack, and later to become her personal physician.

Dr Shetty then moved to Bangalore to create the Manipal Heart Foundation Hospital. With the help of his father-in-law, a wonderful new hospital was built. The hospital is large, extremely well staffed and efficiently run. He needed to build his own hospital as he could find no employers that agreed with this theory of health care.

Then in 2000, he opened Narayana Hrudayalaya Hospital in Bangalore, under the umbrella of the Asian Heart Foundation.

Rich and poor come for a range of treatments; the rich pay and this allows the poor to be freely treated who would have no chance under normal circumstances. Dr Shetty is also the first heart surgeon in India to perform heart surgery on new-born babies.

When I watched the documentary, I saw just a few of the range of his cases. There was a 13 year old village girl with a deformed jaw. She had never been able to smile or eat solid foods, but after the operation, her life was transformed. She couldn’t stop smiling and a few months later, she had put on weight and looked lovely.


Narayana Hrudayalaya Hospital | Jo Tempest

A young boy of about the same age had a terribly deformed spine; he could barely shuffle around. There are many like him in India. They cannot all be operated on, but this child had that chance. He will be able to walk and more importantly work for his living later.

A little village baby was saved, who would have definitely died within a few months if he had not received the crucial heart surgery he needed.

People traveled from as far as America to get the heart surgery they needed at a fraction of the cost it would be in their own country.

All patients, rich or poor, have to have a close family member or friend as a care giver for the first week they are in hospital, to help keep down the costs.

In August 2012, Dr Shetty announced the agreement he had reached with Trimedx, a subsidiary of ‘Ascension Health’, a project to create a joint venture aimed at taking health care everywhere in India. There will be 5000 bed hospitals in every state in India, all run on the amazingly efficient way of his first hospital.

Dr Shetty believes that the cost of healthcare can be reduced by 50% in the next 5-10 years if hospitals adopt the idea of economies of scale. “Charity is not scaleable. If you give something free, you will run out of money”.

Dr Shetty has somehow achieved the balance of providing for the poor as well as the wealthy. Every patient receives the same amazing care, whether they have paid or not. The only difference is that the patients who pay, do not have to wait for their surgery, whereas the poorer may have to for a while.

The training future surgeons receive at the hospital is second to none, so that they can work in the new hospitals with a fantastic range of skills.

I think what really struck me from watching the series of documentaries on Dr Shetty and his work, was the wonderful calm atmosphere in the hospital, the compassion of all the doctors with their patients, and the feeling that they are all working to a greater good for their country.

It’s just my thinking, but having operated on Mother Theresa, maybe that wonderful woman gave something special to Dr Shetty as a thank you. He certainly seems blessed in all that he is trying to achieve.


Jo Tempest.