American College Of Surgeons - Inspiring Quality: Highest Standards, Better Outcomes

2019 Surgical Humanitarianism Award: Devendra S. Saksena

Dr. Saksena during postoperative rounds with a patient in Mauritius

Dr. Saksena during postoperative rounds with a patient in Mauritius


Devendra S. Saksena, MBBS, FACS, a cardiothoracic surgeon in Mumbai, India, received a Surgical Humanitarian Award for his nearly 50 years of service in establishing cardiothoracic surgery services in India and throughout remote areas of Africa.

After completing his cardiac surgery training in the U.S. in 1971, Dr. Saksena returned to his native India and helped to launch cardiac surgery services in several underserved areas in the country. After being given a small consulting room and one operating room slot at Bombay Hospital, Mumbai, at the recommendation of then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, Dr. Saksena started the program that would become the Bombay Hospital Cardiac Surgery Center, the city’s first major cardiac center. It became a recognized center of excellence, and after Dr. Saksena started the Bombay Medical Aid Foundation in 1979, the hospital provided surgery to medically indigent patients at no charge.

Dr. Saksena then began providing surgical services and training and building capacity in other locations in India. He and his surgical team visited Sawai Man Singh (SMS) Medical College in Jaipur for three years to teach the surgeons at the Heart Center, who primarily were trained in cardiothoracic surgery. He also brought the SMS Heart Center’s surgeons, perfusionists, anesthetists, and nurses to Bombay for training several times. As many as 900 operations are performed annually at the SMS Heart Center, and it is a major training center in the region. Dr. Saksena also was on staff in the cardiac surgery at Super Specialty Hospital, Nagpur, Maharashtra, and started the Nirmal Village Charitable Hospital to assist the tribal population of the village, which is approximately 50 miles from Mumbai.

Some of Dr. Saksena’s most impactful work has taken place in Mauritius, a remote African island nation of approximately 1.3 million people, hundreds of miles from the coast of Madagascar, leaving patients there without access to a developed medical center. Dr. Saksena was invited by the local government to help patients who lacked facilities and treatment for advanced heart disease. Because the cost of transporting patients was prohibitive, in 1986 Dr. Saksena began performing cardiac operations in a camp setting, which housed a small general surgery theater and no intensive care unit (ICU) or diagnostic facilities or tools except for electrocardiogram, chest X rays, and a stethoscope. Nonetheless, he performed more than 200 operations with a less than 2 percent mortality rate.

The services in Mauritius eventually developed to include dedicated diagnostic facilities, preoperative evaluation, and an ICU. A full suite of common cardiac procedures became routine, in part as a result of Dr. Saksena’s direct intervention and the training he provided to local physicians. He continues to visit Mauritius to provide surgical services at least twice a year for a two-week period. The people of the island valued Dr. Saksena’s services to such a degree that, in absence of a government plan, they began to construct a heart center. Eventually the government funded the effort and completed the Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam National Hospital, marking the first known instance where the foundation for a heart center was literally laid by local volunteers.

Robert E. Cropsey, MD, FACS

Robert E. Cropsey, MD, FACS
Robert E. Cropsey, MD, FACS