L'Express (Port Louis)

11 November 2012

Mauritius: Cardiac Surgeon Battles against Local Lifestyle to Save Cardiovascular Victims

"Beauty is not much, if the woman with it does not know how to act".So goes the famous proverb.

But seasoned cardiac surgeon Sunil Gunness who spends most of his days mending cardiac patient's heart through open heart surgery at the Pamplemousses cardiac centre has a more or less identical philosophy on the new heart he has been giving  to his patients these last thirty years.

"A new heart is not much if the patient who gets it does not know how to act. In fact, ùost of them do not even know if they can exercise and what type of exercise is fit for their condition they cannot manage their stress and they are unaware of the types of diet they have to follow", says Sunil Gunness.

It is a well known fact that 80% of heart attacks, stroke and diabetes, and some 40% of cancers could be avoided by changing lifestyle and cutting out the risks that come from a bad lifestyle.

The result of bad lifestyle on cardiac patients is all too evident at the cardiac centre.

"Those who have had angioplasty come back to us after around one or two years with other blocked heart arteries. Those that I bypass comes back after five or six years with arteries that have again been blocked. In fact, with a good lifestyle they should not have come back again" explains the cardiac surgeon.

He has had ample time to ponder over this situation as he sits in the utter silence of his operation theatre, nodding his head to a rhythm known only to him as he mends the heart of young adults as well as older folks to the tune of around 600 open heart operation per year.

He has lately devised a formula with the help of the Heart Foundation which he presides.

"We are taking all our patients who have had open heart surgery by batch and teach exercising, stress management and appropriate diet for their condition" says Dr Sunil Gunness who works with volunteers of the heart Foundation.

For stress management, he has recourse most particularly to meditation.

But oin Mauritius, there is a bias against meditation, for its origin is foiund in the Vedas written some thousands of years before Christ and adopted by Hindus.

"I have to convince many patients that meditation has nothing to do with religion. It is today highly scientific and is used to reduce not only stress, but to boost the immune system, regulates the heart beat etc. In France, doctors are now following a one year course in meditation to better help their patients" says Sunil Gunness.

Dr Gunness and his team are quite satisfied with the results obtained so far. But the fact that these free courses are being run only at the cardiac centre of Pamplemousses is an obstacle to some patients living in the south or East of the island.

"We are relocating and will open centres for such courses in different parts of the island soon" says Sunil Gunness.

But his dream is more ambitious. Presently, the Heart Foundation is looking after those who have had open heart surgery or angioplasty. He would like to touch each and every family in his endeavour ro change life style and prevent 80% of heart attacks, stroke and diabetes, and some 40% of cancers.

Read the French version of this article in l'express dimanche.

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