The Incredible Heart Hospital

Dharmsinh Desai Memorial Methodist Institute of Cardiology and Cardiovascular Surgery provides heart care, holistic health education and medical training in rural India.

The Incredible Heart Hospital
Relatives arrive with newborns for a heart screening at DDMM (while the mother is home resting).

Dharmsinh Desai Memorial Methodist Institute of Cardiology and Cardiovascular Surgery, known as the DDMM Heart Institute, is a renowned cardiac hospital located in a rural town in Gujarat, India. It was founded as a memorial to Dharmsinh Desai, a wealthy industrialist and philanthropist who was active in Gandhi’s nonviolent freedom struggle. He was also a member of the Indian National Congress. When he died of a heart attack in 1980, his wife, Shantaben Desai, a practicing Hindu, wanted to do something to honor him, and she decided on building a cardiac hospital in his ancestral village, Nadiad.

She needed an organization to partner with and thought of the Methodist mission hospital that was already established in Nadiad. She saw that it was a well-run hospital whose priority was the health and welfare of the patients as opposed to an institution whose main goal was financial. When she approached the Methodist hospital with her proposal they hesitated—did it make sense to set up a specialized hospital in a small, rural city? But they came around, realizing that rural people needed easier access to hospitals like this. Many in the city had easier access to Nadiad than Nadiad villagers had access to the city. The Methodist Church in India partnered with the Dharmsinh Desai Foundation and donated the land for the hospital. Now, after more than 20 years, DDMM is known for its cutting-edge technology and care. United Methodist Women is longtime supporter of DDMM.

Care and education

Dr. Sanjeeth Peter was working at the Methodist hospital when the partnership with Desai was formed. He is now director and chief cardiovascular surgeon at DDMM. When I asked him why he took on the added work of being the director, he told me it was because he wanted to make sure that the hospital stayed true to its mission, a hospital there to serve the people. Although DDMM does charge its patients, the rate is a third of what other hospitals charge for heart surgery.

Peter realized early on that the hospital had to have a strong outreach program, both educational and social, to be able to reach the population. For many of his patients there is a great stigma attached to disease. Because of the resources needed to care for a child born with a health defect, many children don’t receive the care they need. Women and children who are ill are especially neglected. DDMM social workers explain to families that with proper medical attention a child can grow up to have a normal life and contribute to family and society.

Peter has been creative in coming up with ideas for outreach programs. The hospital offers free penicillin shots to women and children with rheumatic heart disease. They need to get a shot of penicillin every 21 days so that their healthy heart valves won’t get infected. To ensure patients don’t miss their shots, Peter organizes clubs and social gatherings so people in the same village can get to know one another and support one another. They travel together, and visits to the hospital become social events and not just a medical necessity. The patients stop seeing themselves as victims and become survivors.

For the past two years the hospital has been testing newborns to make sure that they have no heart problems, and it is conducting research on the heart statistics of newborns. Every day a van goes to hospitals and clinics in the region where women have just given birth and bring the infants back to DDMM for testing. They come accompanied by a relative, as their mothers are still recovering from the birth. For babies found to have heart issues, DDMM follows up after 3 months and 6 months and makes sure the children get the necessary treatment. Sometimes needed surgeries are performed.

Dr. Mahpaekar Mashhadi is the institute’s cardiologist and was the only woman in her graduating class in medical school. When patients come to her for consultations, she talks to them about healthy lifestyles and healthy eating. Local culture sometimes clashes with the medical advice, as the community values plump bodies and will sometimes even complain if a family member loses weight.

Peter is following research that suggests Indians are genetically predisposed to heart disease, even when controlling for diet and lifestyle, making the work and support of DDMM that much more essential.

A continuing partner

When DDMM first opened they needed to ensure a sufficient supply of blood to use in their surgeries, so they started an aggressive outreach program explaining to the community the importance of donating blood—if everyone that was able gave blood now, when they or their loved ones or neighbors needed blood, it would be available for them. Blood donors were given tokens of appreciation, such as mugs, bowls and certificates, and the blood bank conducted an award ceremony for those who gave the most blood in a year.

Because of advancements in science and modern equipment, the institute can now perform operations without stopping the heart, meaning it does not need to use the blood bank as it once did. It has, however, kept up the blood bank and supplies 80 percent of the blood to surrounding hospitals.

The blood bank, run by Dr. Piyali Gupta, also conducts training programs for young women who have graduated from high school but don’t have the opportunity to go to college. They offer a one-year program to train young women to be lab technicians in the blood bank, and they offer another two-year training program for young women to become nursing assistants. Both programs provide women with an opportunity to be self-supporting, and after they graduate many of them stay on to work at DDMM, continuing to give back to the community.

Jane Schreibman is a photojournalist based in New York City.

Posted or updated: 11/3/2017 12:00:00 AM

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