Dr. Devi Prasad Shetty: India’s Henry Ford of hearts
Being accorded the moniker “the Henry Ford of heart surgery” is no mean feat. The sacrifice and hard work that goes into earning titles is nothing short of extraordinary, especially when you are being compared to the great inventor who made cars affordable to everyone. A careful examination of the life and career of Dr. Devi Prasad Shetty makes it clear why he rightfully deserves the title.
Born on May 8, 1953, in Karnataka, Dr. Devi Shetty was the eighth of nine children. He was inspired early on in life to become a heart surgeon by Christiaan Barnard, a South African surgeon who performed the world’s first heart transplant. He pursued his dream relentlessly, completing this MBBS in 1979 and went on to complete FRCS from the Royal College of Surgeons, England.
He returned home in 1989 and began his career at BM Birla Hospital, Kolkata. It was here that Dr. Devi Shetty would first make headlines when he performed India’s first neonatal heart surgery in 1992. In Kolkata, he also operated on Mother Teresa and went on to become her personal physician.
Dr. Devi Shetty has always expressed his desire to make healthcare services affordable to everyone irrespective of financial status. To that end he established Narayana Hrudyalaya (now known as Narayana Health), a multi-specialty hospital near Bangalore, Karnataka. It was here that he first put into action his idea of affordable healthcare. He wanted to establish a chain of hospitals that would use economies of scale to lower the cost of operations.
The hospital in Bangalore is the largest in the world and has 1,000 beds, conducting over 30 heart surgeries per day. Dr. Devi Shetty’s aim of making heart operations more affordable has borne fruit over the years. He has been able to bring down the cost of heart surgeries to half of what it was 20 years ago and is significantly cheaper than in the United States. Additionally, six hospitals based on the Narayana Hrudyalaya model have been planned in India, Africa and other Asian countries too.
His drive to make healthcare affordable to all pushed him to come up with the idea of a micro-health insurance scheme. Aptly named ‘Yeshaswini Micro Health Insurance’, the scheme allows people to pay a small monthly premium and avail over 800 surgical procedures when they need it, in over 400 network hospitals across Karnataka. Currently, more than 4 million people are enjoying the benefits of the scheme.
It is clear for all to see why the Wall Street Journal conferred the honorary title of ‘the Henry Ford of heart surgery’ on Dr. Devi Shetty. For a person who has done much to improve access to healthcare, Dr. Devi Shetty is an extraordinarily humble man. He chooses to let his work do the talking. And his work really talks wonders about India’s own Henry Ford of heart surgeries.