Bhagawan Koirala, MD, FACC (July 24, 1960) is a cardiothoracic surgeon, professor, and social worker. He is best known for pioneering Open-heart surgery in Nepal, and for starting operational cardiac care for the public. He started a "Poor Patients Relief" program in 2003, with the support of the Government of Nepal, which focuses on providing free Cardiac care for children, elderly and needy.
Dr. Koirala has played a key role in bringing the Heart Center to its present enviable position. He has been felicitated and recognized by various institutions over the years.
Currently, he is serving as key members of the social and humanitarian institutions. In addition to it, he is striven in establishing a child heart excellence hospital; The Kathmandu Institute of Children Hospital (KIOCH) in Nepal.
He has done more than 15,000 and operations with surgery till date and is adored by the public for his charity towards child heart patients and quotes, “No child of this country shall die of heart disease because of poverty.”
The government of Nepal has also demonstrated appropriate ownership by supporting Dr. Koirala led current and past institutes to provide free cardiac care to poor children below 15 years of age and to senior citizens over 75 years of age.
Considering the contribution and current campaign of Prof Dr. Bhagwan Koirala Chief Editor of Mangopost, Mr. Rewati Raman Dhakal has dug more into those projects. Excerpts:
- What motivated you towards serving above self and adopt a philanthropic approach?
The whole concept of generating funds and creating a charitable fund and or working with the philanthropy started when we started providing an expensive cardiac service and cardiological services in this country approximately 20 years ago.
We had the ability to do things, technology, and also some setup which were however primitive. So we could start really doing some clinical work on heart-related problems. But people didn't trust us because we were new and there was a risk associated with the disease. So, only poor people came by compulsion and rich people wouldn't come. Most importantly, those who came couldn't pay and those who could pay wouldn't come and that was the vicious cycle 20 years back.
Since then we started thinking about how we can help those poor people. There were no health insurance as well as government schemes to subsidize in health treatment. So that's how doing philanthropy or working with philanthropy started.
- How did you experience heading big institutions and managing resources to offer free treatment to poor people at the same time in Nepal?
I the then Director of the hospital and Chief Surgeon of the Sahid Gangala National Heart Hospital had to ask for money from different people and donors for an individual patient at that time which was impossible in long run. So in 2002 AD, we started working with some child rights NGOs and prominent social workers and media persons like Anuradha Koirala, Deepak Sapkota and Hem Raj Gyawali.
A lot of resources need to be mobilized in order to perform my professional duties; which unfortunately are scarce in the hospital.
I had to involve with different projects, drives, and campaigns to be able to raise funds and charity for needy patients. It was very rigorous however I enjoyed it because it helped my patients.
I was also closely involved with an organization that is totally dedicated to child health care called “Bal Dhadkan.” Our whole team including social workers and professional doctors were looking into the possibility of declaring that “No child of this country shall die of heart disease because of poverty.” It was challenging but it was feasible. So, we lobbied with the government for a long time.
Consequently, the government of Nepal provided subsidy and we have been able to offer free cardiac care to poor children below 15 years of age and to senior citizens over 75 years of age.
- How the idea of creating a sustainable mechanism for heart treatment spurted and how did it translate in reality?
During that time we thought of some sustainable mechanism of fundraising because the then government didn't seem to own or work on the heart issue although I was working in the government hospital. So, we created an NGO called: Child Heart Beat "Baal Dhadkan" in Nepal and which will be dedicated to raising fund to offer free heart treatment to the children because there were more needy children. It worked well because there were well-renowned people in the team. We were able to help children to some extent and offered services in predictable and sustainable fashion however that was not a long term solution.
So we started to think about the right way to carry out this project. By the next year, we grew bigger and were able to carry out lots of operation and the Sahid Gangalal National Heart Hospital also became popular. People started talking and coming to seek services and government also started recognizing us. Importantly, rich people also started to come which was crucial to provide cross subsidy; rich pay and poor get a subsidy. But as an Executive Director of the hospital, I felt challenged to provide free services to all the children reaching to our institution. Therefore, we lobbied with a politician where they come up with some schemes for poor people. Firstly, they provided 100 mechanical valves that were planted in the hearts free of cost. We really appreciate the support from the then government which was also largely praised by people. Quickly after that, we went to develop a poor people support fund for catastrophic illness.
In 2006, we lobbied with a government to provide all types of services related to heart disease treatment free for the children under 15 years of age. Fortunately, our lobby was instrumental to convert all the schemes into government-owned free service which are currently being offered at the Sahid Gangalal National Heart Hospital and Manmohan Cardio Vascular Thorasis
In consecutive years government trusted us and fulfilled our request. The then government provided us the belonging procedure valves free, one lakh(approx $1000) cash subsidies to all poor patients and also a free heart treatment support to senior citizens above 75 years of age in 2007.
For Nepal, it’s a great undertaking. We are proud that the vision of the Baal Dhadkan has been owned by the government of Nepal. Now, the heart treatment is institutionalized and hugely subsidized by the government in Nepal.
- Would you like to recall any organization or individual who trusted your dream and determination in the initial stage and dedicated their support as well?
There are many people and organizations who trusted and supported me in the course of providing services to poor and needy people. However, I would like to share an experience working with the Jayanti Memorial Trust.
Even before the Baal Dhadkan(Heart Beat) came into existence, we were working with Jayanti Memorial Trust. The Trust has an exceptional story. A royal family owned a hotel in Pokhara; the Fishtail Lodge. It is supposed to be a very exclusive hotel in Pokhara.
A Jyanti Shah had died in the Royal Massacre in 2001 in Nepal and her mother wanted to convert the property into a nonprofit foundation. That was a very emotional moment because she also had cancer. They invited me as director of the hospital to give some advice on what might be the best way. To my amaze, the people who were previously involved in the drafting of the constitution of that foundation had written something that would encourage and support people to go abroad for the treatment.
Looking into those points, I kept my distinct views and highlighted the importance of promoting our own model of the functioning of the foundation and offering support to heart treatment in Nepal. I had stressed the importance of promoting our own national program.
100% of the shares of that hotel are vested in the ownership of the Jyanti Memorial Trust where I am also on the board. So, all the profit would go to provide heart treatment to poor people who are stuck at the Sahid Gangalal National Heart Hospital and the Manmohan Cardiothoracic Vascular and Transplant Center. The Gyanti Trust is still working with us.
- There are other heart specialists in the city too but why do you think people have extra ordinary respect and gratitude towards you?
I am not an extraordinary person. I simply, love my subject and patients. I try to see my patients beyond my professional domain. I want to give at least one extra minute to them so I could know his/her problems. I think that is the most important aspect people would love.
Not only myself, even my colleague, subordinates and juniors are trying to do the same things. We go out for health camps to remote places, 6-8 times a year with all the machines and technology. We go there to see those people who cannot come to our centers for a check up and follow up.
We have also created an INR blood testing centers across the country so they don’t have to come to Kathmandu for a little blood test. So, it has given us immense pleasure to our team from Manmohan and Sahid Gangala National Heart Hospital.
We also believe that, if we give less time to voice less, we are conditioning ourselves. We take pride on taking everybody sincerely and try to be professional.
Fundamentally, we are going to treat everybody; rich and poor, known and unknown in the same manner and we have an equal respect for them too.
- We have come to know that you are more inclined to save young generation of Nepal from heart disease these days, could you please share us your motivation on that?
First of all, I have a special interest in child heart surgery on top of adult heart surgery and I’ve had also additional training on the subject. It is an exciting and challenging field and the issue is delicate and sensitive. Each year, I perform around 300 to 400 child heart surgeries out of a total of 800.
It is heart rendering to see a child handicapped and expecting treatment from the rest of the world when s/he has as good a potential as I have for a better future. And it is a touchy subject when the problem is no mistake of his/her own and that the parents are poor.
Though some parents can pay for the operation, the majority cannot. These are children who have a prospect of a normal life and lifestyle, with all the potential and abilities of a normal human being.
So this is something that can be fixed for life, and is the most exciting part of the story. That is why I am involved with child heart care, and when I see them after a few years, it gives me immense pleasure to see them grown-up, progressed and changed.
Therefore, I am honored saving young generation of Nepal and I would be more involved in the near future into it.
7. Do you have any message you would like to share with our subscribers and the larger population?
For the given population of 10 million children, there is only one Government hospital for children named Kanti Children Hospital in Nepal. There are very few private hospitals providing child care services.
Regarding the heart treatment out of three to four hundred child patients, only half of one third can pay for the service. That leaves about 140 to 200 children who actually need real help to get treated. Looking at the situation there is an urgency to start a program directed to conduct preventive, promotive and curative health services for children in Nepal.
Therefore, I urge everybody to join our initiative to provide comprehensive heart treatment to poor and needy children and save young generation of Nepal.