The National Heart Centre Singapore (NHCS) is set to make waves with its third Heart To Heart fundraising gala, slated for the first Friday of October 2018. Dressed in a determined theme, ‘An Odyssey of Discovery & Hope’, the night will chart a course for the future — in hope of supporting financially needy heart patients, training of cardiac healthcare professionals, and cardiovascular research advancements. And the man in charge of making sure this hope sets sail is Dr Lohendran Baskaran, a consultant with the Department of Cardiology at NHCS who now sits as the chairperson of the gala’s organising committee.
It’ll be a milestone celebration for NHCS too as the centre turns 20. But instead of being inward-looking, the good doctors and staff at NHCS would like to pledge $20 million by 2020 to its Heart To Heart Fund, of which $2 million will hopefully flow in from this Heart To Heart Gala through donations and auction bids. This year’s auction items include two Chinese ink paintings and one calligraphy painting by Lim Tze Peng, as well as a watercolour painting by Ong Kim Seng. Likewise, artful plates from the kitchen at the Ritz-Carlton, Millenia Singapore will be prepared by Michelin-starred chefs Julien Royer, Cheung Siu Kong, Beppe De Vito, Jean-Georges Vongerichten, and culinary genius Melina Yong. Prestigious wine consultant Dr NK Yong will also lend his expertise in elevating the five-course fine-dining menu.
Here, Dr Lohendran Baskaran talks about the upcoming Gala and what it means to have a good heart.
Could you run us through a bit more of what your role as the chairperson of the Organising Committee for this year’s Gala entails?
The main thrust of our Gala is to channel funds and spread awareness so that we can enhance care for our financially less privileged patients, grow research, and promote education. My role is to ensure that this Gala achieves these goals. This involves finding the best possible team members and collaborators and spurring them on. We are fortunate to have a panoply of them! This includes volunteers who have rallied their friends, wine curators, the chefs par excellence who have contributed their dishes, The Ritz-Carlton, Millenia Singapore team, our gracious philanthropists and many more.
What were some of the personal challenges faced during the planning?
As with most of our doctors, I have a hectic clinical schedule. I also have a passion for research which I usually do during after-office hours. Balancing all my interests takes some planning. Our volunteer committee members are extremely busy as well, and work way beyond nine to five. Finding convenient meeting times for us all is like threading the eyes of several needles. Fortunately, we’re all extremely passionate about the meaning and impact behind our efforts, so that helps.
Why did you choose to become a doctor? Why the cardiology field in particular?
I’ve always wanted to make meaningful changes, and am deeply interested in human nature. I love meeting different people on a day to day basis. I also need a challenge. Medicine easily checks these boxes. Picking a field to specialise in can be an emotional, instinctive choice. My ostensible rational answer is that cardiology is extremely broad and varied. However, the truth is that although the majority of my junior training was in many other sub-specialties, including kidney transplantation, intensive care and neonatology, cardiology beckoned, and I answered its siren call.
As a doctor, you already make a difference in people’s lives. Do you feel doctors have an added duty to use their skills to champion charitable causes?
No. I believe it is the duty of everyone to champion what they believe in. Sustained, meaningful change is not brought about by one group, but by many.
“Sustained, meaningful change is not brought about by one group, but by many.” — Dr Lohendran Baskaran
What is another world issue that is close to your own heart? And what do you want to see changed for the better?
The relentless pursuit of status worries me. Humankind seems to ravenously collect symbols of success, sometimes at great cost to individual and societal wellness. We need to be able to pause, take a step back, and look at the big picture.
Who heartens you the most?
My wife. She has been constantly supportive and deeply understanding, even if my work means time away from her. We have different personalities. Of the both of us, she has adjusted to our differences with far more grace!
How has the theme of the Gala changed over the years?
Our inaugural Gala was in 2015, and was themed ‘The First Beat’, which is self-explanatory. It was a call to arms, if you will. Following that, we had ‘The Gift Of Life’, which focused on donating towards our financially needy patients. This year, it is ‘An Odyssey Of Discovery & Hope’. We are introducing an added dimension to our cause; that research is a long-term journey with challenges, but with the promise of a better tomorrow.
Tell us your fondest and scariest memory of the ocean.
My fondest is of snorkelling in the Maldives during our honeymoon. The coral reefs and sea-life were stunning. As a child, I was once on a motorised sampan on a round-the-island trip when the outboard motor stopped working. We were adrift in the South China Sea, bobbing inches above the crests of the waves, miles from shore. It was scary then.
Like the ocean, cardiovascular issues are unpredictable. So how can an individual prevent heart disease? Do regular heart screenings help?
Cardiovascular issues are unpredictable, and the concept of risk is difficult to grasp. However, we can always reduce our chance of having heart disease. The most important steps are to find out your baseline risk, and then to reduce that risk as much as possible. Certain imaging and blood tests can help, but your fundamental risk is largely based on your age, gender, smoking status, family history and presence of other diseases such as hypertension, diabetes and hyperlipidaemia. Some of these are modifiable, and this may include lifestyle changes as well as medication.
What are your tips for those that find it truly difficult to make lifestyle changes?
Whilst it is good to have ambitious goals, small, incremental steps are more important. Do not be discouraged by small setbacks. For example, if you have that extra durian. Instead, focus on getting back on track and having consistent, albeit small improvements.
Talk about the biggest, most revolutionary innovations that have occurred in cardiology.
There are many, but I think the most impactful is the utilisation of artificial intelligence and deep-learning. This will enable us to significantly improve the detection of cardiac disease, perhaps even before it is clinically manifest. We should then be able to initiate tailored medical treatment on a more personalised level. Clinicians will be able to provide better and more focused care. Medical care may be able to shift from treatment of disease to wellness preservation.
What specific achievements can you point to during your life that you are most happy about and proud of?
I’m happiest about making a career choice which is also a passion of mine. Not everyone has that, and I’m fortunate. I’m proudest of orchestrating our wedding proposal that was more than a year in the making. It was at her favourite spot by the Brooklyn Bridge, and she was caught unawares.
How can one cultivate a heart of giving?
Remember you are one of billions of people who have been beneficiaries of humankind’s noblest and bravest endeavours. Now go do something meaningful with it.