Dr. Harvinder Singh (Harvy, Harry) Sahota – The Sikh “Hero and Mender of Hearts”

By Professor (Dr) Surjit Singh Bhatti

A five-year-old boy in Punjab is taken seriously ill and is declared (almost) dead after treatment did not show any results. However, the efforts of a modest local physician, to everyone’s surprise,  miraculously succeeded in reviving him.  The father, a Sikh Station Master at Ferozepur in British-Indian Railways, was so impressed that he decided to motivate his son to become a doctor and serve sick people as a thanksgiving to God. The parents of the boy changed his name from Iqbal Singh to Harvinder Singh, to signify that he had a second birth and a new life. The boy had another very close brush with death when at eleven he was again presumed dead following a severe attack of malaria. His distraught mother again prayed fervently and fortunately, another medical practitioner saved the boy from the clutches of death.

Nobody, not even his parents, could have imagined that their son will one day become one of the world’s leading cardiologists. Perhaps, the frail-looking but intelligent school boy himself may not have foreseen that he would go to the UK and then to the USA and invent medical devices that will save the lives of millions of heart patients. His mother could not have thought that, nearly seven decades later, her son will donate $ 1.5 Million in her name (to the University of California, Irvine) for the education and healthcare of the people, as also for the dissemination of awareness and understanding of the philosophy of the Sikhs.

The boy whose life was twice saved by medical science is Dr Harvinder Singh Sahota, also popular as Harvey or Harry Sahota. As a renowned US surgeon, dedicated to innovation for the cardiac health of the people, he is affectionately called “Hero of the American Hearts” in America, and a “Mender of Hearts” throughout the world. This energetic Sikh, in all humility, has never failed to visit the Gurdwara in Orange County in gratitude and reverence to Sri Guru Granth Sahib, the Sikhs’ Scripture, and their Spiritual Guide. Responding to his mother’s prayers, he believes he has been given a second life to serve others. 

Dr. Harvinder Singh Sahota was born on 15th April 1941. He started his medical studies at Government Medical College, Patiala, and completed his first medical degree, MBBS, in 1965. 

Migration to the UK

He migrated to the UK and started further studies in1967 at the University of Liverpool. In 1970, he earned his post-graduate degree in cardiology with a specialization in the area of Tropical Medicine. In 1971, Dr. Sahota started his Residency at the University of Cardiff where he specialized in the study of  Pulmonary Cardiology (a branch with a focus on the distribution of blood from the right side of the heart to the lungs and back to its left side).

Migration to the USA

In 1974, Dr. Sahota got a Research Fellowship in cardiology and went to the USA where he started to work at the University of Rochester in New York. He did most of his first research project up to 1976. However, he spent one more year in Regina, Saskatchewan (Canada), to complete this project in 1977. In 1978 he returned to the USA and started working at St Vincent’s Hospital in Los Angeles.

Inventions by Dr. H. S. Sahota

The first invention made by him was that of a Hemostat. It stops the spillage of blood during surgery and helps to plug blood loss. An ultrasonic sensor is mounted with a pressure pad to sense the rate of blood flow through the vessel when pressure is applied, to obtain minimum bleeding with maximum flow. This was followed by his next invention of an apparatus for positioning and puncturing an artery and a vein. In 1985, he invented a Perfusion (Angioplasty) Balloon, which has a small hollow and flexible tube with a balloon near its one end. This is placed in the heart artery to lift the cholesterol that blocks the flow of blood.  Inflation of the balloon prevents chest pain during the operation. After the US – FDA approval, he performed Coronary Angioplasty surgeries in  Mexico, Russia, Ukraine, and the USA.  The first such surgery in India was done by him in the PGIMER, Chandigarh. The balloon is now used in angioplasty all over the world.

He developed many new Catheter systems (from 1987 onwards) to provide blood flow paths past the constricted regions of a blood vessel to restore acceptable flow.  These include side orifices into the main opening to provide a flow path through the catheter. A segmented or lobed balloon forms a flow passage between the catheter and blood vessel wall, while the balloon is inflated. Some systems provide means for inserting a catheter into the coronary arteries remote from the aorta. During 1991-2003, he made two-wire improved catheters for use in administering treatments to relieve constricted regions.

He next invented Multi-lobe Perfusion Balloon that straightens the artery on inflation during operation, preventing blockages to occur at the bends. He used the Infra-Red (IR) Laser Light for the prevention of Restenosis and to stop bleeding from a ruptured artery. Restenosis is a problem encountered in angioplasty due to the recurrence of abnormal narrowing of an artery or valve after surgery. It follows tissue growth at the location of surgery due to trauma. It is treated by placing a drug-eluting fibrin-coated stent into the blocked vessel. This stent is a device placed in the affected artery that slowly releases a drug to block cell proliferation.

Awards and Honors received by Dr . H. S. Sahota

The Distinguished Physician Award was presented by a former Indian Prime Minister to Dr. Harvinder Singh Sahota in 2000. The National Federation of Indian-American Associations in the US also honored him. He was appointed Commissioner of Medicine (now called Chairman) for Orange County, California, USA. Excellence in Medicine Award was given to him by the Global Indian Congress of San Francisco, USA,  in 2003. American Heart Association honored him in 2012 for his research in Cardiovascular Medicine and Interventional Cardiology. Golden Orange Award was bestowed on him, for his outstanding work, by the World Affairs Council of Orange County, California. He was honored with the Fellowships of the following American professional societies.

FACC   …   Fellow of the American College of Cardiologists, and

FSCAI … Fellow of the Society for Cardiovascular Angiography and Interventions.

His innovations have made heart surgeries much simpler, both for surgeons and patients.  He is a Board Member of the Metro Hospital, Tbilisi, Republic of Georgia, and also of Claremont Lincoln University, California, USA.

 Publications of Dr. H. S. Sahota

He wrote papers on many aspects of his research. These include the reconstruction of the arterial wall of the heart with endothelial cells, forming the inner layer of blood vessels that regulate the exchanges between the bloodstream and the surrounding tissues. These cells are lost due to restenosis, after balloon angioplasty. The reimplanting of these endothelial cells is done by using (fibrin) glue. It is performed using an illuminated thin tube, called an endoscope,  directly inserted to observe, and image the interior in detail. A technique called ‘Glue Matrix Reduced Restenosis’ was used by him with coronary stenting and intravascular ‘IR Laser Therapy’, to heat a part of the body.  He also published his work on the development of several new Catheters. He holds a total of 24 US patents.

 Philanthropic work by Dr. H. S. Sahota

Dr. H S Sahota is assisting the needy in medical treatment and for higher studies. He worked hard to establish the Sikh Museum at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington DC and is on its Board of Directors. He also gave a donation to the University of California, Irvine. For this, he Instituted a Sikh Chair for research in Sikhism. He is very popular as an efficient heart surgeon. Such Modern Medical Advances have undoubtedly helped millions of people live longer, healthier lives.  We owe these improvements in the quality of life to decades of Investment in Medical Research.”

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