The doctors with a cutting edge
In a country where less than a third of the 1.2 billion population reaches a hospital in time in an emergency, surgeons have an enviable star status. They are the new-age celebs, who routinely save and change lives with a magical flick of their scalpel or laser. Meet 10 of the sharpest new surgeons in Indiahealth and fitness Updated: Apr 09, 2011 19:07 IST
In a country where less than a third of the 1.2 billion population reaches a hospital in time in an emergency, surgeons have an enviable star status. They are the new-age celebs, who routinely save and change lives with a magical flick of their scalpel or laser.
But who are the best and brightest among the new crop of surgeons? It’s a tough call to make. By the time most surgeons hone their skills and finish training in their super-specialities, they are well past 40 and still struggling to find a niche among all the senior specialists in the field.
Still, we tried, and put together a list of the top 10 surgeons in the five most common surgical specialities: heart, orthopaedic, neurosurgery, ophthalmic surgery and reconstructive surgery. Each of us is likely to undergo at least one surgery, if not more, in one of these specialities before we turn old and grey.
The list, of course, is not comprehensive. But the surgeons who find place here have, time and again, showed that in the cutting-edge world of surgery, their skills are the sharpest.
Dr Vipul Gupta, 41, Head, Neuro-intervention, Medanta – The Medicity
Vipul Gupta watched his 33-year-old brother die of a malignant tumour in the brain eight years ago. “We knew it was hopeless but we went all the way. He was operated on thrice, at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences in India and Cleveland Clinic in Ohio and Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York. That’s when I realised that even when the chips are down, the family does not give up, so you have to give it your best,” says the Delhi-based Gupta.
He’s a little embarrassed about the emotional outpouring. “Surgeons can’t be emotional, it won’t help the patient on the table. You have to be calm and think clearly,” he says. At 41, Gupta heads neuro-intervention at Medanta – the Medicity, where he moved after doing his MBBS from Delhi’s Maulana Azad Medial College in 1996 and training in neuro-radiology at All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) for three years. “I’m out-doorsy and enjoy swimming, rafting and rock-climbing. I broke my knees twice in school. The operation and forced bed-rest for six months slowed me down, forcing me to study which helped me crack the MBBS easily,” he laughs.
Once in medical school, there was never any doubt that he wanted to do neurosurgery. “The brain is what we are, it defines us, the body works to keep the brain working. In comparison, the heart is a simple organ, it’s just a pump,” he says.
Gupta is on call 24x7. “I’ve moved to Gurgaon so that the hospital is just five minutes away,” says Gupta, whose wife Nupur Gupta is a gynaecologist and son Nilay is three.
He switches off by listening to music and watching television before going to bed. “ It helps my mind to disengage from work. Neurosurgery is tough, but I knew that all along. If I just wanted to save lives, I could have treated diarrhoea. To be the best, you have to be different,” he says.
Dr Deepak Agrawal, 40, Associate professor, Neurosurgery, AIIMS
He’s the guy at the frontier, treating accident victims at the AIIMS Trauma Centre, best known for treating some of the bloodiest and most bizarre accident cases in the country. “Most accident victims we get are people with severe head or spinal injuries that are often fatal. It does get you down, but nothing can beat the high of seeing a patient everyone including your colleagues had given up on, walk into your clinic for a follow-up. That’s when you know that miracles do happen,” says Dr Agrawal.
Agrawal did his MBBS at the University College of Medical Science in 1994 – where he met his onco-surgeon wife Swati – and his training in neurosurgery at AIIMS. “My professional high was being awarded the ‘Young Neurosurgeon of the Year’ Award by the American Congress of Neurosurgeons in 2008. The personal one was my daughter Ayushi, who is five,” he says.
His father Dr Ved Prakash was also a neurosurgeon at AIIMS, so Agrawal’s becoming a surgeon was almost pre-determined. “I like to catch up on my emails before breakfast, so I begin work at 5.30 am. I leave home at 7.30, doing rounds of the ward for three hours, which is followed by surgeries that usually go on till 7. Then come the evening rounds, which finish at 9 pm. Add to this administrative work, teaching and writing and correcting research papers, and my day never seems to end,” says Agrawal.
But he loves to fiddle around with gizmos and gadgets. “I’m a bit of a geek which is why I’ve been asked to take charge of the computerisation at the Trauma Centre,” he says. “Neurosurgery can be extremely stressful as you have to think on your feet and the minutest mistake can cause life-long disability or even death. I love to drive and take a weekend off with my family every month to drive off far, far away from the hospital,” he says.
Sri Ganesh, 44, Eye surgeon and chairman, Nethradhama Hospital, Bangalore
Bangalore residents are used to seeing Dr Sri Ganesh zooming down the streets to his farm on his Suzuki Intruder, which he exchanges for his Audi Q7 or BMW 5-Series when he visits the hospitals he set up. “Both my grandmas were blinded with cataract, one because of a botched up surgery. I think seeing them faltering around the house made me decide I wanted to do all I could to help people see,” says the 44-year-old.
Eye surgery techniques have become much safer now. “Back then, there were no intraocular lenses (artificial lenses put inside the eye in place of the natural ones) and the failure rate of a simple cataract surgery was 30 per cent, largely due to infection. Now, less than 0.1 per cent cataract and vision-correction surgeries have complications,” he says.
Sri Ganesh met his wife Sumanshree at a paratrooping camp in Agra. He was 17, she was 16. “Someone stole my things and she was very sweet,” he says. They married six years later, in 1990, after Sri Ganesh did his MBBS. The couple have three children, Supriya, Sushant and Skanda. Apart from running six hospitals – four in Bangalore, one in Mysore and one in Mangalore – Sri Ganesh runs a 90-bedded charitable hospital in Padmanabhanagar that does 8,000 free cataract surgeries a year.
His day at the hospital begins at 8 and ends at 6 pm, but it wasn’t always like that. “When I set up practice, I was routinely working till 11 pm, but now I take time off for other things I enjoy,” he says.
Biking apart, he runs for 45 minutes to an hour at Jayanagar stadium and works out at his home gym for 90 minutes every other day. Clearly, he does not believe in resting on his laurels.
Dr Mahipal S Sachdev, 52, Centre for Sight Group of Hospitals
Mahipal S Sachdev, eye surgeon to the rich and powerful, never invests in anything but health. “My last investment was Harshad Mehta and I burnt my fingers there,” says Dr Sachdev.
His investments in healthcare – time, energy and money – have shown better results. Sachdev was told he was crazy when he quit as associate professor at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) to join the newly-opened Indraprastha Apollo Hospital in Delhi in 1996. He was 37. The skeptics got it very, very wrong. Within 15 years of that, he’s running 17 eye hospitals that have become one-stop shops for eye disorders in north India.
A year-long fellowship to Georgetown University in Washington DC in ’89-’90 opened his eyes, literally, to the technological imaging and surgical revolution happening in the field of ophthalmology. “I realised less invasive radical surgeries were the way forward, but I needed equipment and trained staff for that. I could not get that in a government set-up. So I set up my own centre, which started in a 8x10 foot room in Safdarjang Enclave in 1996, but we’ve grown a little since then,” he says with obvious pride.
Sachdev is arguably the best person to go to for cataract and lasik surgery in India. “This is all I want to do, medicine is in my genes. My mother and brother are doctors, so is my wife Alka and daughters Ritika, 29, and Gitansha, 25,” says Sachdev. Sachdev also has an unexplored, fun side to him. “I did my MBBS from AIIMS, where I was the secretary of the students’ union. We were the ones who threw open Pulse, the students’ festival at AIIMS, to fashion, jam sessions and music. Before that, it was a sporting event. We made it socio-cultural,” he says.
His next big plan is to find time for golf. “I’ve played badminton and bridge at competitive levels, and I want to get into golf. My only fear is I won’t have time for newspapers. I can’t begin my day without reading four papers,” he says.
Sunil Choudhary, 42, Aesthetic and Reconstructive surgeon, Max Speciality Hospital, Delhi
Quite like modern day Dr Frankensteins, attaching a hand and replacing chopped fingers with toes is all in a day’s work for reconstructive surgeons. Some, like Sunil Choudhary, who head the aesthetics and reconstruction at Max Speciality Hospital, start a conversation with, “Today, I attached two toes and one finger in the right hand of a 16-year-old who’d lost his fingers in a farming accident. He’ll be able to write now.”
This is followed by an MMS of a surgery to fix a congenital defect in which a child’s skull stops expanding naturally, squeezing the brain and making it bulge out of the forehead.
Unlike popular perception, silicone implants and other cosmetic procedures make up less than a third of a cosmetic surgeon’s case load. “A lot of what we do is related to reconstruction after cancer surgeries and accident cases, including burns and acid attacks,” he explains.
Choudhary grew up in Delhi, went to school in DPS RK Puram and did his MBBS from Maulana Azad Medical College, after which he joined the training programme of the UK’s National Health Service. “I was in Hull for eight years and was one of the youngest consultants, which would lead to situations where the patient would ask, ‘Doc, have you done this before?’” he says.
Choudhary and his wife Sangita moved back to India because they wanted their children Anand, 10, and Sneha, 7, to grow up here. When not taking photos and MMSes of rare surgeries, Choudhury reads medical journals to stay updated. “We are now a team of five surgeons and two consultants, and whatever I can do, my boys can do now,” he says. What he doesn’t say is that he also takes his team for ice-cream at the end of a long day.
Dr Shahin Nooreyezdan, 49, Plastic & reconstructive surgeon, Indraprastha Apollo
He insists on giving you a business card. “I’m the only one in the world with this name, so people often get it wrong,” says Dr Shahin Nooreyezdan. There is, however, a little boy called Shahin Sharma, who was called Golu before his grateful parents renamed him after the surgeon who reattached his finger. “It was deeply touching, but also strange. I guess now there’s another person in the world with a very unusual name,” he says.
Nooreyezdan grew up in Mumbai, where he lived with his parents in a flat above Russi J Manekshaw, the granddaddy of plastic surgery in India. “Each day, I’d walk past his door on my way home from school and pass this display box with before- and after-surgery pictures, which kept changing every week. I was hooked and decided this was what I wanted to do,” says the Delhi-based Nooreyezdan.
He moved to London in 1996, where he worked at St Andrew’s Hospital for three years and met his wife Neda, a British citizen. “When we decided to move back and I went to the Indian High Commission for a visa for my wife, the clerk there said, why are you going? You have a great future here!” he laughs.
Most of his work in India is reconstruction. “Unlike other surgeons who can walk in to do the critical part of the surgery, I have to be there from the first incision to the final stitch because what I do is for everyone to see,” says Nooreyezdan, who gets women as young as 19 who need reconstruction after breast cancer surgery.
The deft fingers that reconstruct tissues and reattach blood vessels 1.2-1.5 mm in diameter also help him pursue his hobby: collecting and repairing antique clocks. Nooreyezdan has a collection of over 125 pendulum clocks from all over the world, including grandfather clocks from the UK, clocks from ships and railway stations. “It started when I was 17, when I noticed an old, broken, clock at an Irani dhaba. I bought it for R170, got it home and fixed it. I still do it, though I have to pay a guy to wind them up in rotation once a week,” he says. He clearly knows how to wind down.
Dr Vijay C Bose, 44, Head of orthopaedic surgery, Apollo Chennai
He was part of British orthopaedic surgeon Derek McMinn’s crack team that developed the ‘Birmingham Hip’ – a hip implant that allows people to play contact sports and twist without shouting after a hip transplant – in the late ’90s. Yet what gives Dr Vijay Bose the greatest joy is recognition from his peers. “Three weeks ago, a renowned joint replacement surgeon from the US got his son to our centre for surgery. He’s one of the best in the world and could have done it himself, he could have got it done by the best in his own country, but he still came to India. That’s the quality India offers to the world now,” says Bose.
Bose, who joined Apollo Hospital in Chennai in 2000 after six years in Birmingham and Liverpool in the UK, now routinely gets so many patients from overseas that he’s became the face of medical tourism in India for 60 Minutes on CBS News. “I did the first implant in Apollo in 2000 and since then, I have demonstrated the technique across 80 hospitals in India,” says Bose, who did his MBBS from Madras Medical College in 1990. Apart from hip replacement, he does knee and shoulder joint reconstructions.
His wife Dr Shanti Bose is also a surgeon but does not work. “Two surgeons in the same family makes life difficult. We have two kids, our daughter Sneha is 15 and son Shiv is 10. I do surgery. Shanti manages everything else,” he says. The Boses live on the seafront on East Coast Road in Chennai. “You can walk out of my house and fall into the sea,” he laughs.
With weekdays beginning at 6.30 am and ending at 9 pm, Bose has little time for anything but work. “I’m crazy about tennis and also find time for snooker at the club occasionally. But I play because I like it, not because I’m stressed. I love surgery too much for it to stress me out,” says Bose.
Dr Suraj Guruv, 36, Orthopaedic surgeon, Asian Heart Institute, Mumbai
Dr Suraj Guruv’s last holiday was spent shooting wildlife at Bandhavgarh National Park in Madhya Pradesh, but he did not break any laws. Guruv is an amateur photographer and rarely leaves home without his Nikon Digital SLR. “I’m crazy about wildlife photography,” he says. When he’s not shooting, Guruv is fixing damaged hips and knees using minimally invasive bone-conserving surgeries in India that make it possible for people to run, drive and work just as they did before, after hip or knee replacements.
Guruv is a Mumbai boy, who grew up in Prabhadevi, went to a neighbourhood school, did his MBBS at Mumbai’s Topiwala National Medical College and worked in Bombay Hospital before going to train in Singapore General Hospital. “I belong to a family of chartered accountants, my dad is one, so is my older brother. So when dad said try something else, I thought, why not?” says Guruv, who aced his entrance exam. “Even though I don’t invest in the markets, I still follow financial news very closely, perhaps because that’s what I’ve grown up hearing,” he says.
He returned to India because he wanted to be part of the boom in medical care that India is witnessing. “We now have medical facilities at par with any other in the world, with better care,” he says.
His wife, Dr Gunjan Guruv, is a gynaecologist. The couple have two daughters, Anindita, seven, and Nandini, who is 18 months old. “I rarely get time with them but I get them ready and take Anindita to the bus stop come what may. Weekends apart, that’s the only time I get with her,” he says.
Dr Raja Joshi, 40 Paediatric cardiac surgeon, Apollo
He’s called the ‘bandana guy’ because he wears a bandana instead of a surgical cap while operating. Apart from his training as a paediatric heart surgeon during a five-year stint at Cleveland Clinic in the US, what defines Raja Joshi is his bandana collection. “You have to strike a chord with the kids you’re treating, and a bandana with Dalmatians on it sure helps to break the ice,” says the Delhi-based Joshi who, at 36, became one of the youngest surgeons in the country to set up a paediatric cardiac surgery unit in a major hospital. “My dad was in the air force, I grew up wanting to be a fighter pilot. It was after my class 10 boards that my dad told me there were other ways to earn a living,” he recalls.
The idea of being a heart surgeon for children came a year later, after a Doordarshan show on a hole-in-the-heart being fixed. “It was so dramatic, the lights and the surgeons in scrubs, this child being immersed in ice to bring the body temperature down. Suddenly, that was the only thing I wanted to do,” says Joshi.
He’s had no regrets. “It’s one of the few surgeries where the patients outlive the surgeons. You won’t believe the number of birthday invites I get. Anyone can do adult heart surgery, paediatric is what separates the boys from the men,” said Joshi. His wife Reena Joshi, 36, is a paediatric anaesthetist who’s helped him introduce innovations such as letting the mother stay with the child in the operation room till he sleeps. “Taking away a baby from the mother makes anxiety levels shoot up. Keeping them together till the baby is anaesthetised improves surgery outcomes,” says Joshi.
With two surgeries a day, working days typically last 12-14 hours. “I always take Sundays off as that’s the only time I get with my son Rohan, who is six,” says Joshi.
Pranav Kandachar, 37, Paediatric heart surgeon, Asian Heart Institute, Mumbai
Heart surgery is one of the cleanest surgeries there is, it’s like mathematics. The result is directly related to what you do, there are few surprises,” says Pranav Kandachar, the newest heart surgeon to join Asian Heart Institute’s team of surgeons. “Of course, there are some conditions in which you cannot play god, but in most cases, children can lead active, normal lives after surgery,” he says.
After doing his MBBS from Bangalore Medical College in 1997, Kandachar worked at Sion in Mumbai, Apollo Chennai and Colombo, did a year long stint in New Zealand, returned to Bangalore to work at Shirdi Sai Baba Charitable Hospital, and joined the Asian Heart Institute, Mumbai, in January this year. “When you’re training, one institute can’t offer you everything. I’ve trained with the best,” he says.
Kandachar describes himself as a nature kind of guy, being big time into hydroponics, a scientific method of growing plants in water - without soil - using mineral nutrient solutions. “I have a virtual vegetable garden in my little balcony, where I grow spinach, beans, cauliflower, coriander and mint. I’m planning to grow strawberries next,” he says. He’s also into ornithology and is part of a nature club that goes birdwatching to sanctuaries at least once a month.
His wife, Dr Rashmi Kandachar, is still in Bangalore but is planning to join him with their 15-month-old daughter Sameeksha this summer. And though he misses the green of Bangalore and New Zealand, there is no other city he’d rather work in than Mumbai. “Not even in New Zealand have I seen such professionalism, everyone here gets together to get results. There is no need to follow up, everyone does their job,” he says.
- From HT Brunch, April 10
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