Nepali Times
Nepali Society
Heart in the right place

Bhagawan Koirala is between operations at the Shahid Gangalal National Heart Centre in Bansbari. That was the only time he had for an interview. Between his daily surgeries, meetings with his medical team and administration of the hospital, the 40-year-old doctor has little time to spare.

Bhagawan didn't exactly choose a career in medicine: as a young boy growing up in Palpa he was no different from his friends who only had hazy ideas about the future. But unlike his peers, Bhagawan had an extraordinarily sharp mind. By age 13 he had passed the SLC exam, and his parents enrolled him into a health assistant program at the Institute of Medicine in Maharajgunj. "They fudged my birth date, the only way they could register me into a course in general medicine," Bhagawan admits with a grin.

It was the first step towards becoming one of Nepal's leading heart surgeons. Encouraged by GP Sharma, a lecturer at the institute, Bhagawan got fired up about cardio-thoracic surgery. Years later, Sharma would again encourage Bhagawan, this time to begin open heart surgery on a regular basis at Teaching Hospital. "I turned down several offers to stay abroad, I had a clear mission to return to Nepal," he says. So, two years ago, Bhagawan came home for good.

It wasn't long before he was offered the position of executive director at the heart centre. "I hate administration, but I thought it was the only way to create a platform that would enable me to give my fullest," he recalls. Today he juggles running the impeccably clean and efficient hospital with surgery. He is also on the expert committe of Princess Jayanti Memorial Trust where the good doctor waves bed, food, heart valve (costing Rs 75,000) and operation charges for needy heart patients. Despite his name and his accomplishments, Bhagawan does not suffer from a 'god complex'.

"Working with heart patients in Nepal can go two ways," he says. "They can make you feel like a god over a routine procedure, but their unwillingness and, at times, inability to understand can also prove a formidable challenge." His team is well trained and on a good day, everything in the operation theatre goes smoothly. On a not-so-good day they pull off 12-hour sessions of intense concentration battling to save a patient's life.

It's a high stress job, and after observing Bhagawan, we have to ask how he does it. Early morning badminton sessions obviously help. But what else? "When you're working at the edge of life and death every day, your focus is on getting things right," says Bhagawan. Now, here is a doctor whose heart is in the right place. (Sraddha Basnyat)

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)