History India South Asia · History of Medicine · Medicine & Doctors

Dr PK Sen in 1968 – India’s first heart transplant in the time of Nehruvian science and self-reliance

This was published in thewire.in on 30th June 2018. Here is the full article, and below is an extract.

“When Sen decided to make cardiovascular history around early 1968, large scientific projects had already entered public imagination as modern ‘temples’ a la Nehru. In fact he had previously performed India’s first ever operation on the heart itself, in 1952, to cure a rheumatic mitral valve.

For transplantation, Sen and his team honed their skills on canine hearts for several years. Sen visited top medical centers in USA and Russia through the 1950s and 1960s, maintaining regular communications with surgeons there, and even hosting some in Mumbai. He also imported devices and technologies from America and Europe, often tweaking them to suit Mumbai conditions. America’s Rockefeller Foundation provided most of the funding for Sen’s foreign visits and his team’s training. (Many readers would know another group of researchers who received Rockefeller funding during the same time: the Green Revolution scientists including MS Swaminathan.) This fascinating nationalistic internationalism of PK Sen would probably have made Shailendra, who wrote the popular Nehruvian-era song Mera joota hai japani… phir bhi dil hai hindustani, proud.

After years of practice and deliberations, Sen’s team performed their (and India’s) first cardiac transplantation in February 1968. PK Sen became the fourth surgeon in the world to attempt a heart transplant, before any surgeon in England, France, Canada, Australia, Japan, or the Soviet Union; and he did it only within three months of the world’s first heart transplant. The patient died soon after surgery, but the response to the procedure indicates that while the patient was lost, laurels were won. The Times of India, for example, proudly noted that “Indian doctors have the ability” to carry out this “newest feat of cardiac surgery”, while cardiac surgeons from the world over sent congratulatory messages to Sen.”


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