'Dr Singh is a really good man, he thinks of the country all the time'
Dr Ramakant Panda performed cardiac bypass surgery on Prime Minister Manmohan Singh shortly before the 2009 general election.
As the Asian Heart Institute, which Dr Panda built from scratch in Mumbai, completes 200,000 heart treatments, Dr Panda tells Rediff.com's Prasanna D Zore about the prime minister's current state of health.
You peformed bypass surgery on Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. How were you selected for this operation?
Dr Manmohan Singh had a team of doctors and at that time his health minister (Dr Anbumani Ramadoss) was also a doctor. This team decided to invite a cardiologist from the US. I was to be there to get the angiogram done and in case surgery was needed to go ahead with it.
My second bypass results are among the best in the world -- among the top two or three in the world -- and since the prime minister needed a second bypass they were looking for the best in the world.
The best is my boss Dr Floyd D Loop (of the Cleveland Clinic in the US) who trained me, and my name cropped up.
How did you feel when you discovered that you were chosen to operate on the prime minister?
Emotionally, it was challenging. But again by that time I had done more than 800 redo bypass surgeries (since Dr Singh's operation in on January 24, 2009, Dr Panda has done 200 more such operations) -- one of the highest in the world.
I thought of approaching it as a routine operation. One good thing that helped me was when I was at the Cleveland Clinic I had operated upon lot of VIPs. Dr Loop used to operate on many presidents, prime ministers, kings; we had operated on the emir of Bahrain in 1989.
I was the second man on this team, next to my boss, Dr Loop.
I was used to handling VIPs. What I learned from this experience is treat VIPs just like any other patient. The moment you realise this, the tension vanishes.
For two days before the operation I stopped watching TV or read any paper to keep my mind focused on the job. So I had no clue about what was being written about the prime minister's operation.
What did the prime minister tell you before the operation?
He was very, very, cool. He asked Dr Reddy (Dr K Srikanth Reddy), who was his chief cardiologist and physician, and I, how long the surgery would take. He wanted to know if we would be able to go for the election (Dr Singh was operated upon on January 24, 2009; the general election was scheduled for April-May that year).
We told him that he would be fine within a month. He promptly asked us to go ahead. After that he did not say anything even when we asked him if he wanted to know more about the operation or needed an explanation about it.
'I have full faith in you,' he said. 'Go ahead and do it.'
Post surgery, the first question he asked us was: 'Is everything okay in the country?'
He asked Dr Reddy and I if everything was okay in Kashmir.
Contrary to whatever his rating, he is a really good man... he thinks of the country all the time. I know he is a very genuine human being.
How is the prime minister doing five years after his redo bypass?
He is very fine. He is medically fit.
Do you think he can become the prime minister once again if the UPA comes to power again?
We do our check-ups and he is medically fit, that much I can say.
What heart care tips did you share with Dr Singh after the operation?
Since this was his second bypass he knew everything about it. He had his first surgery in 1992 so he very much knew what to do after an operation.
He is a very good patient. He does his exercises regularly. He maintains his diet.
Please click HERE to read the letter (courtesy: Asian Heart Institute) Prime Minister Manmohan Singh wrote to Dr Ramakant Panda after his surgery.
Image: A rare smile from the prime minister.