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A blessing in disguise: Dr M
Published on: Sunday, November 18, 2012
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Kota Kinabalu: Former Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad is glad that his misfortune (in suffering a heart attack) and having the by-pass procedure done in Kuala Lumpur resulted in benefit for Malaysians as it prompted the setting up of IJN (National Heart Institute).He said it was then the Government realised the need for extra effort to be taken to address the prevalence of heart disease in the country.

This resulted in an overall improvement in CVT (Cardiovascular Thoracic) care such as heart clinics manned by specialists in every State, except Perlis and Terengganu.

In the process IJN has established itself as among the best in the region for CVT care and celebrated its 20th anniversary in September.

In Sabah, IJN handed over the heart clinic to the State after providing supervision and training for 12 years.

"We can be proud of IJN's achievements because it has capability and facilities comparable to those in developed countries," said Dr Mahathir, after delivering the Dr Razalli Hashim Memorial Lecture in conjunction with the 22nd Congress of Association of Thoracic and Cardiovascular Surgeons of Asia (ATCSA) at Magellan Sutera, Saturday.

Mahathir who inspired the setting up of IJN after undergoing an open heart surgery at the General Hospital Kuala Lumpur (GHKL) on Jan. 24, 1989 said the institute had explored new technologies and produced heart specialists.

So much so, IJN is the largest heart centre in Asia and other countries are queuing up to send their trainee physicians such as Japan, Brunei, Indonesia, Pakistan, Sudan and Vietnam.

"Of course I have no idea what equipment they are using but I have never envisioned that within 20 years of expansion, every state in the country now has its own heart centre (except for Perlis and Terengganu)," he said.

"I am proud because from having only a normal operation theatre unsuitable for heart surgery, IJN now has a cardiac surgery centre including in Sabah."

He said there had been tremendous advancement in the tools and equipment used in CVT care but it required special skill to use because it involved precision.

"The reason I had my surgery in GHKL was I made a mistake because when I was the Prime Minister I promised to lead by example.

They asked me if I wanted to have the surgery in America.

But if I go to America it will be costly and people will start going abroad so in order to be an example I let Malaysian doctors fiddle with my heart," he said to laughter.

According to him, as a doctor, he never thought that he would suffer heart disease because "I have been gentle." He recalled before his first attack happened he had felt pain in his chest "when a group of young people pulled him to dance" but it went away after he sat down to rest.

He felt the pain again when he was riding a horse but again it disappeared after he rested. "I thought it was just a pain in the chest, better than the pain in the neck," he said, adding that the pain, however, did not go away after he had one too many helpings of food.

After an angiogram procedure, it was then confirmed that there was a blockage in his artery, he said, adding that as a doctor he knew the diagnosis was not good. "I didn't relish people opening up my chest and play around with my heart É when I was practising years ago when people open up your chest then that is the end. I asked my doctor how are you going to open up my chest and when he said with an electric saw I asked him to stop and just do what they have to do," he said, adding that his American cardiologist gave him the confidence that Malaysian doctors in Kuala Lumpur are equally as good.

He was 69 at that time and the six hours' surgery felt like just 10 seconds to him.

It was then in the recovery room, Dr Mahathir said the doctors came up to him 'while I was lying flat and unable to argue so much' telling him 'the facility in the GHKL was inadequate and that I was lucky to be alive É I should have been dead.'

"That was when I convinced the Cabinet that we should have the IJN and we managed to find some money which was not very much during those days, about RM280 million," he said.

After the Prime Minister submitted to Malaysian surgeons and lived to tell the story it also gave many people the confidence while the number of cardiologists increased, he said.

Dr Mahathir said he decided to go for his second surgery at 82 when the pain returned and this time at the back of his chest. Due to his age, the surgery was a little complex and the doctors had to "go in twice."

"I had to go one and a half-times under the knife É maybe it was just old age and not the surgeon after all. But, nevertheless, I recovered and even in an open surgery they are doing a good job to delay your 'departure'," he quipped.

"I became the beneficiary of my first heart attack or I would never understand the need for the centre. I don't regret and I don't blame them for asking me to get government funds," he said.

Meanwhile, IJN Cardiothoracic Surgeon Consultant, Dr Mohamed Ezani Md Taib said IJN now performs 4,000 heart surgeries annually, receives 130,000 outpatients and conducts about 10,000 cardiology treatment procedures. Mohd Ezani who is also ATCSA President said IJN was the first Asian medical institution to introduce sophisticated equipment and the latest support equipment for the mechanical heart.

Dr Mahathir together with Chief Minister Datuk Seri Musa Aman sounded the beduk (traditional drum) to mark the opening of the congress.

About 800 delegates comprising among others cardiologists and cardiovascular surgeons took part in the congress, which also marked the first time that all the presidents of the ATCS from five continents gathered at the same time.

On another note, Dr Mahathir asked PAS to clarify its interpretation of hudud law which must be based on justice as demanded by the teachings of Islam.

He said the party should implement a law that is acceptable by all groups, including the non-Muslims because of the country's multiracial population.

"The hudud law imposed on Muslims and non-Muslims as mentioned in 43 verses of the Quran must be fair as being unfair is contrary to the teachings of Islam," he added.

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