In the vast room guarded by a solid ornate wooden door are about 8,000 hearts. None of them beat. Jostling against the translucent fluid in glass jars, the hearts sit, in all sizes, shapes, colours, and stages of disease. Welcome to the Maurice Lev and Saroja Bharati Cardiac Museum at Frontier Mediville in Gummidipoondi, about 50 km from the city.
The museum has not only hearts – most of them human, with some animal specimens – but also heart components. “If we put every specimen we have in a jar of formalin, we’ll need 10,000 containers,” says K.M.Cherian, chairman and CEO, Frontier Lifeline Hospital and Frontier Mediville. “It is the largest collection of cardiac pathology hearts anywhere in the country, possibly even the world,” he claims.
Pathology is the branch of medicine that studies the altered anatomy of an organ. A surgeon corrects the structure or functionality of an organ, and so, unless he or she gets the pathology and biochemistry right, he or she is likely to be just a person with a scalpel.
The museum gets its name from the primary contributors to the heart section, Maurice Lev and Saroja Bharati, from the Maurice Lev Congenital Heart and Conduction Systems Centre, Chicago. It cost about $1,00,000 to ship the specimens, and a further $1.5 million in insurance, Dr. Cherian says.
“I had not even imagined that these hearts we collected since the 1970s would be in India one day. But, here they are,” Dr. Bharati explains. “Every heart is different. When you look under the microscope, even the hearts of identical twins are not identical.” As someone who has written the pathology reports of over 9,000 hearts, she should know.
In the museum, inaugurated by Governor K.Rosaiah on Saturday, are hearts at various stages of disease, and repair, diaphanous valves which put you in awe of a cardiac surgeon’s skills, pacemaker probes nesting in hearts split wide open.
“This has been my dream. I visited Prof. Lev and Bharati in Chicago when they were just setting up the museum to spend months studying the anatomy of the heart,” he explains, giving us a personal guided-tour of the museum on its inaugural day. “I want students to benefit from this wealth of information, completely free of cost. Some professors of pathology from other countries have also expressed interest in visiting the museum.” And what is the favourite specimen in the hall? Dr. Cherian doesn’t bat an eyelid, “Mine.” It probably is happiest ticking in the good doctor’s chest cavity at the moment, but is it to be available for display sometime in the future? “For sure!” he says, “I don’t believe either in burying or burning the body.”