A LEADING surgeon – whose UK charity has treated around 1,700 children with heart problems across the world – has revealed plans to visit more countries and save additional lives.
Dr Sanjiv Nichani is a consultant paediatrician with 22 years of experience and has made it his mission to help children in the poorest countries.
Every year one million die from undetected heart problems. The surgeon and his team of doctors want to address this and visit Dhaka in Bangladesh for the first time last week, and are also scheduled to visit Manipur in north-east India.
The team of medics from the Healing Little Hearts charity typically operate on up to 15 children during a week-long stay in a country.
In an interview with Eastern Eye, Dr Nichani said he aims to visit more developing countries and expand the charity’s reach.
He said: “I’m originally from Bombay and used to go back quite frequently. I have seen the huge deficiency in care for children with heart problems and the paucity of doctors and nurses.
“I want to help deliver services and hospitals, I made it my life’s mission in 2007. We have been to 10 countries and treated 1,700 children so far. It’s about training and empowerment, working with hospitals and local surgeries who want to be upskilled.”
The Leicester-based surgeon added: “We want to carry on in the same vein and expand.
“We have been invited to Bangladesh at the end of March, (and also plan to visit) Uganda and Barbados, and Iran have also asked us to visit.”
Set up in 2007, the charity has been supported by celebrities such as India cricket legend Sunil Gavaskar and Bollywood composers Shankar, Ehsaan and Loy.
Among the doctors in his team is Dr Ramana Dhannapuneni, who has appeared in BBC Two series Hospital. Last year Dr Dhannapuneni operated on a baby in Liverpool who miraculously survived 25 heart attacks in one day.
Volunteer surgeons from the UK, Europe and Australia have also visited the Palestinian region twice to operate on children.
Dr Nichani, who uses his allowance of four weeks of annual vacation to go on the trips, said: “Facilities can be challenging, when there is a political conflict, or for gaining government permission for children to be operated on.
“We go to the West Bank, the troubles between the Israelis and Palestinians are in the Gaza Strip. Fortunately, it is quite a calm and nice place.”
The charity has expanded its reach through invites and doctors from foreign countries working in the NHS.
Dr Nichani revealed that one of his most memorable moments was saving the life of a five-year-old boy in India last year.
“When we travelled to Andhra (Pradesh, in south India), our most prolific centre, I met a boy who had a very weak heart. We had to operate as an artery giving blood supply to the heart was not formed properly.
“After surgery, his heart was not beating and we put him on a special bypass machine. That saved his life and he is now going to school.”
He added: “Andhra is a newly-formed state with a population of 50 million, but it did not have one single heart centre.
“We have had a trained local heart surgeon over there for three-and-a-half years to operate on six to eight children per week. It has given birth to the first children’s heart centre in the state.”