This family built a citadel for diabetes management in India

If you want to know how Chennai became a centre of excellence in India for diabetes prevention and care, this is the book for you. In ‘Making excellence a habit’, Dr V Mohan an eminent diabetologist in Chennai, tells an absorbing story of how his father, the doyen of diabetology in India, Dr M Viswanathan, deftly but surely, diverted his son’s dream of becoming a great writer, even a poet, to taking up a career in medical science. The schoolboy, who had returned home for his summer holidays in 1968, armed with a stack of English literature classics, was firmly told to divert his interest in writing fiction or poems to creating and publishing research papers in medical science.

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Dr Viswanathan was a pioneer in starting the first diabetic clinic in India at the Stanley Medical College where he was working. The clinic evolved into a department of diabetology, and much more recently, was upgraded into an Institute of Diabetology.

But much before that, in the 1960s, when government policies changed, Viswanathan left Stanley and set up his own private diabetes clinic in Royapuram, Chennai, which almost became a Mecca for people from all over India afflicted by diabetes, till the other cities set up, much later, their own diabetes clinics and hospitals.

But not before that institution had got the stamp of world-class research in diabetes, the factors that cause it, its close relationship with lifestyle and nutrition, and the grave danger it posed to a diabetic’s health if she did not control her sugar levels.

Dr Mohan, an honorary member of RC Madras East, talks about how his father’s passion for research rubbed off on him, the importance of meticulously maintaining patients’ case studies and the wealth of information these can provide to deepen a doctor’s knowledge about his specialty.

After striking a bit of a romantic note on how the young Mohan wooed and won the heart of his fellow medical student Rema, who went on to become his wife, the author sketches the couple’s journey in branching out from his father’s centre to set up their own diabetes centre in Chennai. As they had a comfortable life in the family venture, “we used to donate most of our earnings to research,” he writes. The two had literally “walked out just with our stethoscopes, and together, had only about ₹80,000 in the bank”.

The rest of the book is about the perils of being a medical entrepreneur; the hazards and headache of dealing with landlords and bankers, till one of his patients, the chairman of a top finance company surprised him by offering to fund his entire hospital.

After the first success, more partners and philanthropists came along, including Surya Jhunjhunwala, who donated money to set up a separate research building for his hospital. Later Rema was allotted land at the Women’s Biotech Park in Siruseri, reserved for women entrepreneurs with a scientific background and a 32,000-sqft facility, exclusively for diabetes research, was set up on the 6.5-acre plot allotted to her.

A positive of this book is the author’s simple style, the anecdotes he has packed into it, as also humour, while unravelling some simple truths about handling diabetes.

A useful book on the “secret to building a world-class healthcare system in India”, as the jacket promises. And it has a testimonial from none less than eminent cardiac surgeon Dr Devi Shetty, who compliments Dr Mohan and his team for elevating the standards of diabetes care in India, and creating a monumental document which will be a guiding force for the future generations of medical students.”

But all of it goes hand-in-hand with the frustration of tall promises when it comes to funding. Entrepreneurship is difficult; medical entrepreneurship much more so, as this book will tell you.

Published by
Penguin India

Pages : 194

Price : ₹699

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