It Happens

The Cardiologist with a Heart

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Dr Ramana Rao has run a free Sunday clinic every single week for 37 straight years

Thippe Swamy has travelled 160 km to get this doctor to check his hips. The 65-year-old says he visited several government doctors, but now trusts only the man in a white coat sitting under the gazebo inspecting patients. “When I first came here six months ago, I just couldn’t walk and had to be carried around. Now, I am recovering well and can walk comfortably. It’s all thanks to doctor sahebru,’’ he says.

The doctor he’s referring to is the cardiologist B Ramana Rao, who has run his free Sunday clinic for 37 years without a break at his farmhouse, 40 km from Bangalore. The feat is mentioned in the Limca Book of Records as the only free clinic of its kind in the world—run by a single individual for such a long duration, catering to the rural poor. He estimates he’s treated almost 1.2 million patients till now, an average of 600 patients per Sunday.

The open-air clinic gets 400-1,000 patients every Sunday. There are barricades to maintain orderly queues. “Most people suffer from asthma-related illnesses here. I treat people with festering wounds, itches, for gastric, aches and stress,’’ he says. Started on Independence Day in 1973, the clinic distributes bulk medicines, ointments, tonics and administers injections and nebulisation (via breathing machines for the asthma-afflicted) to patients. On an average, it costs Rs 30 per patient and the cost is borne mostly by Dr Rao, and partly by a charity set up in his parents’ names.

“Even if I have to travel, I make sure my Sunday mornings are spent here,’’ he says. His two sons, one a cardiologist and the other who has just completed his MBBS, assist him.

And that’s not all. D Rao distributes notebooks, uniforms and bags to children in over 50 schools in the district. He has also assisted in building toilet blocks and providing potable water for villages around T Begur. Ask him if he wants to contest elections, and he replies: “Never, it’s a social service. Give back what you get. This way, you get the blessings of the poor.”

The 59-year-old doctor was awarded the Padma Shri this year for medicine and the Karnataka government promptly renamed the main road in the village, Dr Ramana Rao road. “The board is yet to be officially inaugurated,’’ smiles the doctor, who hopes that his sons continue his Sunday odyssey.