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Ashwin Mehta

Old master

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He has been fixing cardiac complications for the longest time by sending up balloons and stents to the diseased heart through a small incision in the groin. Seventy-one-year-old Dr Ashwin Mehta's experience means he is the most wanted cardiologist among India's business barons. Dr Mehta won't reveal his who's-who clientele, but he smiles when told he is known in cardiac circles as the country's most expensive cardiologist.

"There are many patients on whom I operate for free, but, yes, there are some clients who are wealthy. They request me to fly to their city or abroad. But my fee is not so high that it would ever worry them, " says Mehta, who is among the first medical school teachers to perform angioplasty in India some 18 years back. "I performed my first angioplasty in civic-run Sion Hospital around the same time that Dr Mathew Samuel Kalarickel did India's first minimally invasive procedure in a private setup, " he says.

In fact, it was this humble resource-crunch medical school in central Mumbai that took the initiative 26 years back to call German-Swiss doctor Andreas Greuntzig for a lecture. Greuntzig performed the world's first angioplasty in the mid- '70s. "We asked him to fly economy class but put him up in Taj Mahal hotel as the civic administration was allowed free hospitality in those days, " recalls Mehta. The lecture series helped him and many of his students make up their minds about the future of heart care.

"After listening to Greuntzig, we realised angioplasty would be the future and worked hard on popularising it. In fact, we performed India's first primary angioplasty (the procedure done on a patient within six hours of a heart attack) at Sion Hospital a few years later, " he says. His students, each a leading cardiologist, are spread across the country. "I consider my students my best asset, " says Mehta as he continues to perform at least two angioplasties every day. He also says he has learnt a lot from his patients. "I was Jayaprakash Narayan's doctor when he was hospitalised in Jaslok Hospital during the Emergency. He never had a harsh word or observation to make despite all that happened. He remains my most impressive patient, " says the doctor who has treated late prime minister Morarjee Desai and former prime minister Chandra Shekhar.

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