Mayooran Shanmuganathan: Assist RR, and the Communal Heart of Cardiology

Sunetra Senior Thursday 28th June 2018 06:49 EDT

Mayooran founded the free echocardiogram and cardiology clinic as part of the charity, Assist Resettlement and Renaissance, which is dedicated to enabling people’s livelihoods, in his home country of Sri Lanka. The enterprising cardiologist works at Harefield Hospital in London and had already raised funds for the beautiful yet environmentally and politically torn country when he was president of The International Tamil Society during his undergraduate education at Imperial College. “We had raised money for Sri Lanka when the Tsunami struck in 2004,” he said. The group also contributed to helping Sri Lankan residents recover through the national trauma of civil war. “I later did more Sri Lankan charity work for my local temple, West Ealing Hindu Temple . It’s a country that’s always needed us. My parents raised me to give when it is needed and not just when one feels like it.” Some years after the civil conflict in his particular ancestral land in South Asia, Mayooran found himself further on in a healthy medical career, and naturally revisiting the cause: “it came to my attention that the entire northern province of Sri Lanka, including states such as Kilinochi and Mannar, were severely underequipped when it came to cardiological staff and equipment. Once again, I had to act. Being a trained professional in the field, I was obviously ready to go but needed the adequate platform and support to carry out such a specialist, co-ordinated project. I contacted the wonderful team at Assist RR, chaired by Dr Sarveswaran from Birmingham, a charitable organisation consistently doing great developmental work in Sri Lanka, and they were more than happy to work with me. We’ve done extraordinary work since.”

Mayooran started by offering the services of himself and other colleagues whom he contacted via the British Cardiovascular Society. He and one other available cardiologist fly out to the country, seeing hundreds of patients per visit. This week has him fly out for the fourth time since the beginning of the project, last July: “it’s been incredible,” he commented. “We’ve now seen and managed more than 600 patients, giving scans and diagnoses”. The Mannar state did not have any local cardiological services, where three states are still lacking such attention currently. Remarkably then, Mayooran and a handful of British cardiologists have tended to 90% of the heartcare required for the Sri Lankan state of Mannar. “We also raise funds for hospital equipment such as echocardiogram machines and exercise treadmills used to check the heart,” the young crusader added. “The great bonus of this is that hospital equipment and funding and salaries can also allow local doctors to be employed so you’re helping a country help themselves on a larger scale too.” As well as supporting Sri Lankan doctors, the socio-economic impact is increased by what Mayooran pointed out was “breadwinners of families, and family members being given longer and better quality of life. Heart problems are a big issue in this country so cardiology is a service that’s especially needed”.

As well as being focussed, the daring doctor emphasised that being able to work with people in his profession is a massive and mandatory skill: “I think my success at charity work has come of my innate interest in wanting to help people, which is what’s helped me thrive as a cardiologist too. Honestly, I became a doctor not because I liked Biology and Chemistry, and rote learning, but because I wanted to work for and with the public. You need to be a people-orientated person. You need to have a strong humanitarian attitude. You need to be able to forget about yourself and drop your ego: teamwork and relating to patients is vital.” This is certainly clear through Mayooran’s even philanthropic ethic towards raising money and the more entrepreneurial side of his charity work. “I believe if your intent is authentic and you want to do good, you will naturally attract good people. It’s a magnetic effect: if you’re promising to donate a fishing net, for example, make sure your organisation does that. Your donators will remain invested in your cause because you are building mutual trust.” Mayooran continued: “a small example of this is when a friend who used to go to the temple with me wrote back to an email I’d sent out to raise awareness on the cardiological aims of Assist RR, expressing that his seven-year-old son wanted to do a sponsored run to help. This ended up raising an impressive £1,700. I brought my family along and as well as a tailormade trophy for the boy, Ajesh. It’s all a product of sincere, universally interconnected energy.” Thus, taking heartcare to its social end, Mayooran and his tireless medical team at Assist RR turn the concept of public infectiousness paradoxically on its head!

Tell us more about Sri Lankan-aid charity Assist RR?
 As well as the healthcare unit, they provide people with long-term aid, such as a cow that can provide milk and create a stable income. They also build shelters for refugees and provide free cataract surgeries in the wards. The goal is to develop the entire northern province of Sri Lanka, which has undergone much dissent.

What has been a highlight moment with your project?
Being away from family is hard work, but there have been many great moments. A very moving one was when a family from a fishing village in Mannar waited behind after a very long clinic to offer us a feast in return for our care. That gratitude was so clear. They were Christians who said prayers for us and that sense of togetherness and unconditional love has stayed with me.

The online age has been both a gift and a curse. Can you comment on how it is helped you expand from a traditional, service-based career and how perhaps it is has detracted from success?
Absolutely. As I say, for doctors, and cardiologists in particular, face to face communication is so important. I often find that young people are not talking to each other and just looking at their phones etc. There should be a family time-out from screens. Conversely, being a doctor and wanting to extend into charity work has needed the sort of reach only online platforms can provide. At the touch of button, you can engage so many people. But, even as you’re promoting social mobility, you must continue to be mindful of fraud. I would encourage donators to check if a charity is registered online.

Finally, what advice do you have for others who want to start a social initiative?
A few pieces of advice: start with what you know. If you’re a businessman, use your ability to sell concepts. Also, research where you can vouch for the results. For example, don’t attempt to start a charity overseas where you can’t travel; secondly, try to do the hard work yourself. Fundraise what you can to prove your project has worth; finally, reach out to organisations who are like-minded and can help.



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