Legendary cricketer, Sunil Gavaskar, in his second “innings” with Heart to Heart (H2H) Foundation is all set to change medical education and treatment in India for good. As the Chairman of the Board of Governors of Heart to Heart Foundation, Gavaskar is spearheading the humanitarian movement called H2H Foundation that aims to build a 400-bed hospital and medical college in Bangalore by 2024, that will not only offer free treatment but also medical education to needy and committed students.
Gavaskar recently announced his contribution of Rs. 1 Crore for the World’s First Free Medical College being constructed near Bengaluru as well as to expand the scope and reach of free cardiac surgeries for children. This contribution will be in addition to the annual contribution of Gavaskar to support 35 Heart Surgeries to match his 35 international cricketing centuries.
Since 2018, Gavaskar has supported 140 free heart surgeries and also inspired a huge number of people during his USA tours in 2019 and 2022 to help save more children. Heart To Heart Foundation supports surgeries for children suffering from Congenital Heart Defects, a major cause of Child Mortality in developing countries. H2H Foundation aims to address the global burden of congenital heart defects by supporting international organizations that work towards this shared vision of addressing the entire spectrum of Prevention, Screening, and Cure.
Arvind Thiagarajan, a trustee of the H2H Foundation spoke to indica about the project, Gavaskar’s indelible commitment towards the foundation, and much more. Thiagarajan is the founder and CEO of HD Medical Inc. He is an inventor and entrepreneur with a history of the founding, advising, and building technology companies. “He is super committed and a real leader. He is inspiring all of us to do more. Heart to Heart Foundation supports the free heart surgeries performed by the Sai Sanjeevani hospitals in India.”
Gavaskar has been working closely with the foundation since 2018 and supports this cause because “he wants to step up and do much more for children with heart ailments in India”. “On our earnest request, he agreed to become the Chairman of the Board of Governors of Heart to Heart Foundation voluntarily. He has not charged a single penny for his enormous contributions to our cause. So far, he has done two Heart to Heart Foundation tours – in 2019, covering ten cities in the US, and this year in 2022 he reached out to 20 cities in the US. And with these 30 cities that he has visited, he has inspired thousands of people to become aware of this cause and support this cause,” Thiagarajan added.
The commitment to the lofty cause across the globe and India has seen the foundation touch 23,000 free heart surgeries in the last 10 years of this journey. “And Sai Sanjeevani hospitals have become the single largest pediatric chain of hospitals offering completely free heart surgeries in the world. We’ve got 10 hospitals in India, which include five cardiac surgery hospitals and five mother and child hospitals because it’s equally important to prevent heart defects by taking care of expectant mothers,” he said.
The foundation has set foot in Fiji and Sri Lanka this year with international hospitals and plans to set up hospitals in Nigeria, Mississippi in the US by 2024. “But as we are expanding this hospital network, we are experiencing an acute shortage of pediatric cardiac surgeons. Believe it or not, there are less than 250 pediatric cardiac surgeons in India, more so in the rural areas. And most of them are in commercial practice and they invariably switch to adult patients because that’s where the money is. Medical students have to pay hefty capitation fees and they want to get their money back, so they all focus on the cities and urban areas. They don’t want to practice in rural areas even if we pay them.”
To solve this problem, the Heart to Heart Foundation has initiated this unique project of giving the world its first free medical college. Not only will the education be free at the college, the hostel accommodation, food, books, and every expense is taken care of by the foundation. There is however one condition. After they complete their medical studies, the students will have to spend an equal number of years serving in rural areas.
“We will pay them of course, but, if they study for five years, they will have to serve for five more years in rural areas. The Karnataka government is trying to make this aspect of the medical college into legislation,” Thiagarajan said.
This hospital that incudes medical college will specialize in heart surgeries for children, educate doctors, train nurses and paramedics. “The project is worth $15 million, of which we have already raised $11 million from generous gifts from various donors as well as devotees. Now we need to raise the remaining $ 4 million. The foundation stone laying for the hospital building was done by Home Minister Amit Shah in April this year.”
The criterion for getting admission into this medical college offering free education is underprivileged students hailing from villages, aspiring to become doctors. “We have hired the best of professors and talent already to meet the National Medical Council guidelines. These students can get trained in advanced cardiac surgery programs in our own hospitals. We will also have a mini Sai Sanjeevani hospital set up within the campus to train the students,” he said.
“We believe in serving humanity and it’s really about love and service. So that’s where we want to really give this gift of life to these children who otherwise cannot afford surgery. We also want to screen so many thousands of children who are otherwise undetected. With this medical college program, we will empower so many aspiring students who otherwise cannot afford a medical education in India at this point and enable them to serve better with compassionate care. Because you want to remove the financial aspect from medicine and make it truly health care, not health business.”