LIFE

His heart goes out to the poor

A DOCTOR with a heart. That's what his mother had told he must be, if he wanted to be one at all. A. Sampath Kumar passed out of Bangalore Medical College in 1967, with his heart set on being, well, a cardiologist.

And looking back, as Professor, Department of CTVS, All-India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), New Delhi, he is modest in conceding that his mother would be pleased. And proud.

In a 30-year career, marked not by ostentation or loud grandstanding, Dr. Sampath has not only done his mother proud, but all of Bangalore where he was born and brought up. Like Mycroft, the secretive elder brother of Sherlock Holmes (who could make the ace detective look like a greenhorn), Dr. Sampath's achievement in his chosen field are many.

The reason he is not in the limelight is perhaps he lives in the hearts of the poorest people across India — from Leh and Bihar's boondocks to all those hundreds who come to AIIMS with diseases.

For the record, Dr. Sampath's experience and knowledge of tecnhiques in heart valve conservation and repair is the biggest in the country, something even his peers admiringly acknowledge. Never having hankered after fame and fortune in the U.S. that beckons the best in India, he wanted nothing more than making heartcare accessible to the poor.

He was ever on the lookout for alternatives to expensive, and often highly unsuitable, imports that were the only option for Indians needing valve replacements. After a year's training in the U.S. in by-pass surgery, he lost no time in working on developing a substitute that is superior to all other substitutes. Along the way, he adapted the cardiac ring to suit Indian conditions. He was instrumental in the opening of the Valve Bank at the AIIMS in 1993, and since then over 150 pulmonary valves have been replaced. He also made transplanting valves from cadavers a reality and, over the last few years, 600 patients have benefitted.

Dr. Sampath has filed for patents for two of his innovations that are bound to change the way cardiologists look at valve replacement techniques. He is currently engaged in developing a prototype with Defence Research Development Organisation (DRDO) on two designs for arotic and mitral valves.

If earlier generation valves were a by-product of the rocket industry, Dr. Sampath is looking at teflon and some engineering and material science expertise to come up with a valve that imitates the real, natural one.

By Alladi Jayasri in Bangalore

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