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Devi Shetty

The Indian heart surgeon who created accessible healthcare for millions of people across emerging countries

Devid Shetty was inspired by his early career caring for Mother Teresa. He has been call the Henry Ford of heart surgery. He created Narayana Health which has become one of the largest hospital groups with 22 hospitals, 6 heart centres, over 30 medical specialities with 2.6 million patients treated every year from 78 countries.

Devi Shetty, founder of Narayana Health, has performed over 15,000 heart operations, and also operates a chain of 21 medical private medical centres across India, and much more.

Shetty grew up in the Karnataka region of south-west India, the eighth of nine children to parents who ran a chain of Udupi restaurants in Mumbai. From an early age, he wanted to be a doctor, but then at school when he heard about the world’s first heart transplant, performed by Christian Bernard in South Africa, he knew he would be a heart surgeon. He trained in Mangaluru, before specialising in cardiac surgery at Guy’s Hospital in London.

In 1989 he started work in Kolkota and became the personal physician to Mother Theresa.  “When I first starting treating her in hospital, she would often get up from her bed to accompany me when I went on rounds. One day as we went visiting kids she defined a paediatric heart surgeon to me in the most beautiful way possible. ‘I know why you are here,’ she said. And I asked her, ‘Why Mother?’ ‘When God created these children with heart problems, he was pre-occupied and so he sent you here to treat them,’ she replied. That truly touched my heart.”

Shetty describes how he looked after Mother Teresa for the last five years of her life. “These years changed my perception of life. Mother Teresa’s humility and simplicity is what struck me most. She was one of the most popular women in the world, and yet so humble and simple. Everybody knew her well, in fact, as they would see her approach them, they would be ready to bow to her feet. But she would greet everyone and politely introduce herself.”

In 2001 he opened Narayana Hrudayalaya, a multi-disciplinary hospital just outside Bangalore. The NH cardiac unit is the largest in the world, with 1,000 beds performing over 30 major heart surgeries every day. It also hosts around 15,000 outpatients daily.

He believes that most hospitals can reduce their costs by 50% if they adapt a business model that leverages economies of scale, plus measures such as smart sourcing, and preserving air conditioning for extreme conditions. More hospitals were developed around the country using the Bangalore model, in total with over 30,000 beds, and extending further afield into Africa too.

His innovations in patient care included training family members to administer after-surgical care and pioneering low-cost diagnostics. He also typically has each of his surgeons performing around 35 operations every day, compared to one or two in other heart hospitals worldwide.

In the two decades he has reduced the cost of his heart bypass operations from $3,000 to around $800 (compared to over $200,000 for the same procedure at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio, USA).  He has developed Yeshasvini, a low-cost health insurance scheme, affordable to most people in his markets, whilst offering free care for poor families, especially for children, partly funded by revenues he gains from a more recent health tourism service, largely focused on cosmetic operations.

Shetty says “India is in a phenomenal position to show the world a new way of delivering affordable healthcare.” The Wall Street Journal called him “the Henry Ford of heart surgery.”

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