# 5 Devi Prasad Shetty: Surgeon with a big heart


In March 2019, Bangalore based cardiologist Dr Devi Prasad Shetty received a call from Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina asking him to come to Bangladesh to treat Obaidul Quader, Road Transport and Bridges Minister of Bangladesh. The premier extended her sincere thanks to Dr Shetty for quickly responding to the call for the treatment of Obaidul Quader.

Dr Shetty’s experience and record in performing heart surgeries is acknowledged world over. Dr Shetty s team has performed over 70,000 major heart surgeries out of which 15,000 operations have been on children, many of them new born babies. He trained to be a heart surgeon at Guy’s Hospital, London where his colleagues would call him an “operating machine” since he loved heart surgery and could do them endlessly without tiring.

Dr Shetty worked as a thoracic surgeon under National Health Service UK at Brompton Hospital and Guys Hospital London between 1983-1989. He is Professor of International Health – University of Minnesota Medical School, USA and Rajeev Gandhi University of Health Sciences, Karnataka, Bangalore. He is the first heart surgeon in India to perform heart surgeries on new-born babies, using a micro-chip camera to close holes in the heart.

When desperate parents meet him they often begin with the line, “I heard you love children.” Dr Shetty always replies, “Yes, I love children and I have four of my own. My profession is giving hope to people suffering from heart diseases and giving them a chance to start life in a fresh new way. I am essentially a technician who can cut and stitch people’s hearts; they call me a heart surgeon.”

On the completion of his 4,000th free paediatric surgery, Dr Devi Prasad Shetty wrote a letter to all his young friends on whom he had performed a heart surgery when they were barely 10 days old. His letter to the children of the world, which went viral, goes:

“When I met you first, you were barely 10 days old, cuddled in a warm blanket close to your mother’s heart. Except for a bit of rapid breathing and bluish nails on your fingers, you looked like an angel. I am sure you cannot remember but I asked you a question, “Do you want to be my friend”? This is the question I ask all the children I see. I did want to be your friend and I worked so hard to gain your friendship.”


“My mother hurried to the living room to see her son on TV with a 9-day-old baby who had undergone a successful open-heart surgery. He was the youngest baby at that point of time in India to undergo a successful open-heart surgery. It was the beginning of heart surgery on new-born babies in India.”

Dr Devi Prasad Shetty

Most of the children Dr Shetty has operated on come from poor families and regardless of their backgrounds he treats every child for free.  “I think this is the best way I can repay God who has given me everything I wanted – a good family, a wonderful wife and loving children. For me this world is such a happy place to live in and in my own small way I strive hard to make it happy for others around me who are not so fortunate.”

Dr Shetty became a doctor due to the recurrent illness of his parents. He writes in his letter, “You must be wondering what inspired me to take this path. I guess I became a doctor because of the recurrent illness of my parents. My childhood was spent with the fear of losing my mother. My father, who was a diabetic, had multiple episodes of diabetic coma. In the lives of the nine of us, God’s clear image was that of Doctor who could save the lives of our parents. Another childhood incident left a lasting impression on my young mind. I remember: It was a Saturday afternoon; I was trying to build a car, I think, out of matchboxes and sticks, like all the other children in my village. My mother was speaking to a distant relative of ours in Bombay. This lady was telling my mother about a particular surgeon who, apart from saving her child’s life, also offered his service completely free of cost. I could hear my mother blessing the mother of that surgeon for giving birth to such a wonderful person and ended up saying that this world is still a wonderful place because of people like him.”

After his training in England, Dr Shetty returned to India in 1989 to start a state-of-the-art heart hospital called B. M. Birla Heart Research Centre at Calcutta, which would become one of the best heart hospitals in India. And Dr Shetty became a hero not just in India but also in neighbouring Bangladesh.

When one went to Manipal Hospital in Old Airport Road in Bangalore, where Dr Shetty used to work in the early 1990s one could see many Bangladeshi nationals waiting in the lobby to meet the only person they believed could cure their child.

When one went to Manipal Hospital in Old Airport Road in Bangalore, where Dr Shetty used to work in the early 1990s one could see many Bangladeshi nationals waiting in the lobby to meet the only person they believed could cure their child.

Immediately after the Research Center was set up, he set up the paediatric cardiac surgical facilities to take care of children suffering from heart diseases. Dr Shetty’s mother used to live in a small town near Mangalore at that time. On the day of his father’s death anniversary, his mother was sitting in the prayer room the whole day. In the evening, his sister called out to her to show her son on national television.

Dr Devi Shetty with Prime Minister of Bangladesh Sheikh Hasina

“My mother hurried to the living room to see her son on TV with a 9-day-old baby who had undergone a successful open-heart surgery. He was the youngest baby at that point of time in India to undergo a successful open-heart surgery. It was the beginning of heart surgery on newborn babies in India.”

When Mother Teresa suffered a heart attack Dr Shetty was put in charge of her heart care. One day she saw him examining a blue baby, and remarked that he had been sent to this world to relieve the agony of children with heart disease.

Speaking to CSP, Dr Shetty says, “Cardiac surgery is the most exciting profession in the world and if I have to come back to this world many times in the future I would like to be a heart surgeon nothing else. I get the unique opportunity to interact with hundreds of patients in need of help and become a hero in real life. Fortunately this profession today gives you an opportunity to bring someone out from the jaws of death just by using your skill and passion. I wish lot more youngsters take up this wonderful profession.”

Contribution to Healthcare

Dr Shetty’s team is the first in the world to coin the term ‘Micro Health Insurance.’ He helped the Karnataka State Government to launch Yeshashwini Micro Health Insurance considered as the largest Micro Health Insurance Programme in the world. He also started Arogya Raksha Yogana in association with Kiran Majumdar Shaw of Biocon.

Additionally, his was the first team to coin the term “Health City” and is in the process of creating 5000 bed Health cities in every state capital of India. He manages the world’s largest Telemedicine Programme through Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO), as well as a chain of Rural Clinics in Karnataka and Uttar Pradesh.

“India can become the first country in the world to dissociate healthcare from affluence. However for this to happen, first we have to liberate medical nursing and paramedical education and digitise medical records. Apart from this, India desperately needs an affordable health insurance for middle-class people. Ayushmann Bharat will of course cover poor people and rich people can buy the regular expensive health insurance,” says Dr Shetty.

Dr Shetty has also inspired many youngsters to get fitter, a subject close to his heart. “For a healthy life everyone past the age of 30 must undergo a CT scan of the heart to find out very early coronary artery disease which is rampant. CT scan of the heart can predict heart attack 10 years in advance giving enough time for patients to change the lifestyle. Your health is directly related to what you eat, so eat healthy food and avoid tobacco in any form.”   

Even at the end of a very tiring day, Dr Shetty’s finishes his round with a pleasant smile. His very presence is calming and very reassuring to anxious families, including mine at one point of time as he operated on my father two decades ago.

Asked about his utter calm in the face of what can only be extreme stress in the ace of high expectations from family members, Dr Shetty says, “Regular half an hour to 45 minutes of exercise is extremely important not only for the heart also for your mind and the musculoskeletal system. Most important advice for everyone is to be spiritual, I am not asking you to be religious. Belief in God is the most stabilising factor for everyone in their daily life.”

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