Nepali Times
Healing Nepali hearts


Growing up, Jayanti Shah saw her grandfather, uncles and family members suffer and succumb to coronary heart disease. So, throughout her life, the former princess looked for ways to help heart patients and make cardiac care more affordable and accessible for Nepalis.

But Jayanti Shah was one of the members of the royal family killed in the massacre at the Narayanhiti Palace in 2001, and her wish remained unfulfilled. Her mother, Helen Shah, established the Jayanti Memorial Trust (JMT) in her memory and turned her vision into reality.

For the past decade, the Trust in partnership with two state-run cardiac hospitals (Shahid Gangalal National Heart Centre and Manmohan Cardiothoracic and Transplant Centre) has saved the lives of more than 2,000 patients. It helps spread awareness among Nepalis about how to take better care of their hearts, and how heart disease doesn't just afflict the affluent.

The unique feature about JMT is that it runs on the profit generated by the Fish Tail Lodge in Pokhara which is owned by Jayanti Shah's family. One of the best-located hotels in Pokhara because it offers views of the reflection of Annapurnas on Phewa Lake, Fish Tail was attacked twice by the Maoists during the war and was closed till 2006.

With renovations and professional management, Fish Tail is now doing well and transfers 100 per cent of its profits to the Jayanti Memorial Trust for the treatment of Nepali heart patients. The Trust also accepts private donations, some from grateful former patients themselves. And although the Trust started as a private initiative, it is now managed by an independent board to become a model for other charitable organisations.

HEALTHY HEART: Dr Bhagwan Koirala (left) and Dr Fred Grover (right) examine a patient at a free health camp in Pokhara.
"People in Nepal donate money and that is where their social work ends, many don't bother to find out where their money ends up. We are transparent and our donors know exactly what their money is being used for," explains Shreejana Rana, secretary of the Trust.

Selection of patients eligible for the Trust's support is left entirely to the doctors. Fees are paid directly to the hospitals to settle medical bills. To make patients more responsible towards their treatment and recovery, the Trust encourages them to contribute whatever they can towards their treatment. JMT also sponsors the social service unit at the Teaching Hospital which helps needy families find alternate sources of support.

JMT vice-chairman and former Nepali ambassador to the UK, Singha Bahadur Basnyat, organised a charity musical event that raised 15,000 pounds to get JMT started. A musician himself, he produced the CD In Memoriam dedicated to those who died in the royal massacre and to raise money for JMT.

"I expressed through music what I felt inside, but the most fulfilling part of it was that the Trust is carrying on the memory and wishes of Jayanti Shah," says Basnyat.

Chief cardiac surgeon at the Manmohan Centre, Bhagwan Koirala, has been involved with the Trust since its inception. He admits that he was at first sceptical about a scheme started by the former royal family, but now says it is one of the most fulfilling things he has done in his career.

"Even if we can provide just Rs 20,000 during an emergency, we save lives," he told Nepali Times, "lack of money should never be the reason why a patient has to die in a hospital in Nepal."

Besides covering the medical expenses of underprivileged heart patients, JMT regularly organises free health camps in Pokhara where locals get thorough checkups and counselling. It also donates streptokinase injections used in emergency procedures after a heart attack, and artificial valves to hospitals in Kathmandu.

The Trust brings cardiac specialists from the US to Nepal so that doctors can share experience and expertise, train each other and build stronger partnerships.

Rana says the Trust plans to open free diagnostic centres in district hospitals, but the bureaucratic maze is a deterrence. She says: "We can't go it alone, only by working together can we bring about real improvement in cardiac health in the country."

See also:
Heart in the right place

Musical diplomat

Second innings

Bikash Dahal (name changed) was 19 when he lost his parents to HIV/AIDS. Bikash's father was neck deep in loan which he had borrowed to pay for treatment. Soon after his death, the bank seized their house and family property leaving Bikash and his two younger sisters with nothing. To make things worse, the teenager and his youngest sister fell ill with heart complications. The younger one succumbed to the disease due to lack of treatment. A local foster home finally took notice and took in the two children and paid for Bikash's travel expenses so that he could get a check-up at Gangalal Hospital in Kathmandu. The doctors recommended immediate surgery and referred him to Jayanti Memorial Trust which footed his entire medical bill. Bikash recovered quickly and is back in his village leading a healthy life. "I have been given a new life, I want to use it to look after my sister and foster parents," he says.

1. Dorji Tsering Sherpa
Healing Nepali Hearts by the Jayanti Memorial Trust is one of the best gifts that Late Princess Jayanti Shah left behind. May her soul find eternal peace. I have come to know about the heart disease because the monk who take care of our Stupa in Shikharpur village ( is suffering from it. He need to change is heart valve which is beyond his capacity to pay for. So Dr. Bhagawan Koirala has assured to provide some discount on the basis of disadvantaged people. But still the fund required is not sufficient. So I request the JMT to please help this poor man Mr. Karna Bolan. Thank you.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)