Saving Lives and Giving Hope

Dr Prashant Bhangui elaborates on his life as a liver transplant surgeon and giving hope to people who require his services

Dr Prashant Bhangui is the Associate Director, Hepatobiliary Surgery, and Liver Transplantation, at Medanta-The Medicity, Gurugram, Delhi NCR.
He was born and brought up in Panaji in a family of engineers, architects and a science graduate mother who was also a teacher. He was the younger among two siblings, and initially attended Rosary High School, Miramar and later went to People’s High School.

He completed his Higher Secondary from Dhempe College of Arts and Science; and ranked in the State Merit lists in the boards, both, at the 10th and 12th standard examination and then joined Goa Medical College in 1995. Dr Prashant graduated in M.B.B.S in 2000 and got selected for Masters in Surgery. He completed his MS (Surgery) in 2004 and secured the Goa University Gold Medal for securing first rank in the examination.

From a young age, Dr Prashant was involved in many co-curricular activities. “Many a times people would wonder how I would excel in academics while being involved in so many co-curricular activities,” he says.
He was a state champion in badminton for almost 10 years starting from the sub-junior level right up to the senior level. He represented Goa in the Nationals for quite a long period of time, and was ranked No.2 in India at the sub junior level.

Dr Prashant was also into public speaking, elocutions, and debates; and represented Goa to win the ‘Pride of the New Generation’ (PONG), Outstanding Public Speaker of India Award amongst more than 2000 contestants at the National Level. He then represented India at Japan as a Young Ambassador when he was pursuing his second year of MBBS in 1997-98. Along with sports and other co-curricular activities, Dr Prashant was also General Secretary and President of the Goa Medical College Students Association and later the President of the Goa Association of Resident Doctors (GARD). Till 2005, he was in Goa; and then proceeded to New Delhi to pursue specialisation in GI Surgery. He was later presented with the ‘Goa Scholar’ Award by Goa Government under Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar, who introduced the scheme for the first time.

Dr Prashant was selected to pursue a Masters in Hepatobiliary Surgery and Liver Transplantation at the Henri Bismuth Hepatobiliary Institute, France. He was the first Indian to successfully complete the Masters program. “I did my super specialisation in Hepatobiliary Surgery and Liver Transplantation in France from 2008 to 2010. I then returned to India and have been at Medanta, Gurugram since then. Currently, I am the Associate Director of the Institute of Liver Transplantation and Regenerative Medicine there, the Institute has performed more than 3800 liver transplants till date, is the largest center in the country and is one of the most acclaimed programs for living donor liver transplantation worldwide,” says Dr. Prashant.

He feels that perhaps fate wanted him to become a surgeon. “When I was in the 11th standard I had a choice to either opt for biology or math. At that point I took both subjects and was working towards securing admission into IIT. I was interested in doing genetic engineering and I even applied for and got through to the final selections for the Rhodes scholarship to go to Oxford. But then, as fate would have it, I chose to go ahead with clinical medicine in Goa instead of engineering when I had to list my choice of a career in order of preference. I got into MBBS and I guess it was destiny that I became a doctor.”

After that, he was very much involved in medicine and when the choice was between choosing a medical or surgical branch for Post Graduation, he wanted to do something that would truly save lives. “In an emergency situation, it comes down to what a doctor can actively do to save a life. In many instances, that doctor is a surgeon is what I believed, and that is one reason I chose surgery as my subject for specialisation. When it came down to a super-speciality, I was enthralled by the fact that the liver as an organ is so complex and that very few surgeons dare to touch it. One has to take extra steps forward in order to deal with its various complexities and that is what made me choose liver surgery and transplantation. I had seen people dying of liver failure with no much resource available to them during my MBBS and MS days in Goa, and even in New Delhi, things were difficult. I wanted to bring in some expertise from the ‘Mecca of Liver Surgery,’ France, back home, that was the driving force behind me pursuing further training in France, and then coming back to my country with the aim of doing something for the people here.” Dr Prashant had offers to stay back in France after he completed his Masters, but he chose to return in 2010 and practice here, as options for patients in this field were limited in India.

A doctor’s life, right from the time he chooses to enter the field of medicine, till the time he chooses his field of specialisation and super specialisation is something that is filled with effort, patience, and sometimes a lot of frustration, too. But when he gets through it all, it is about the pride and satisfaction which one gets when a life is saved. Dr Prashant recollects that the early years in the profession were only filled with books, studies, patients, and loads of hard work. “Having said that, I would find the time for co-curricular activities even in college; and continued representing Goa Medical College and Goa University in badminton, elocution, and quizzing. In short, the years between my 20s and 30s were a blur of studies and activities for me.”

Over the years Dr Prashant has undertaken various procedures and interventions in his field of specialisation. He says, “There are two parts to what I do. Most of my time is taken up by liver transplant surgery and the other part is taken by non-transplant surgery of the liver. Liver transplantation encompasses all those patients who have liver failure and would die without a new liver. It is usually end stage liver disease and a transplant is necessary. Right from neonates who are two to three months old, to even people in their 70s, there can be a need for a liver transplant because of various causes. One can have end stage liver failure due to various etiologies and transplantation is the only thing that can save them. When you have a child who is going to die without a liver and we end up saving that child, it is very special for me. I have operated children from Goa as well, who were three months, a year, one of them was two, and they are all doing very well now. Some have begun going to school and have even finished their secondary education. All these cases are very special to me.”

The other speciality in which Dr. Prashant excels is hepatobiliary surgery. Some patients suffering from liver cancer (which till recently was considered as end stage cancer) as well as non cancerous disease of the liver can be cured by surgery. “In my field, as far as cancer is concerned, I have involved myself in clinical research as well as clinical management of liver cancer patients over the last 15 years. My clinical research has led me to publish several key research papers in high index factor journals, for which I have been rewarded at the national and international level, as well.” The most challenging thing about his profession Dr Prashant says, is trying to achieve a work-life balance. “This is something that is really tough. When I talk about liver transplant surgery, it takes around 12-14 hours so your whole day goes into surgery. Later, there is post-op care, which is followed by patients becoming your extended family – calling up and confirming even about the smallest of ailments, medications. We have done around 3800 liver transplants at my centre so you can imagine the number of patients who need ongoing help. Amidst all this, trying to achieve a work-life balance is something that is very tough and it’s not always possible to do so.”
My wife has been a big support and a special partner. It is very difficult for a spouse to understand her husband being away from home for up to 16 hours and sometimes a few days also. But my wife, who herself is a Liver Transplant Anaesthesiologist, has stood by me for the last 15 years and continues doing so, and similar has been the support of my in-laws.

Apart from his professional life, there are a few other plans that keep Dr Prashant excited. “I would like to devote more time to my daughter who is soon going to enter her teens, and spend more time with family, something that I haven’t been able to do through the years. Also, training younger minds to excel in this field, and achieve even more than whatever little I have achieved in my career is something I enjoy doing. Later, I would like to get into more of academics where I get to train youngsters on various aspects of liver surgeries and transplant, as well as come back to Goa.”

Dr Prashant says that his parents have been a huge source of inspiration to him. “I feel parents have to be one’s backbone and be a huge support to their children. My mother was a central figure and my parents have supported me during my most difficult times. My father has always been a pillar of strength and inspiration, and my elder sister (who is an architect and urban designer) has always been very supportive right from the beginning. Secondly, my peers and mentors who have taught me everything. Though there are many, I would name Professor Henri Bismuth, one of my mentors, who is truly a pioneer and legend in the field of liver surgery and transplantation. I trained under him and many other surgeons in France and India, and he is someone who has been an inspiration to me, coming up with innovative methods and ideas in our field.

Regarding his future plans, Dr Prashant says, “I would like to continue with my work of saving lives. Next, I would like to train younger students to achieve academic excellence and reach a level where they are able to help patients who are suffering from liver diseases. Going forward, I’d like to continue giving my best to my home state as most of the patients from Goa who have had a liver transplant or complex liver surgery have been at my Institute. I would like to come back and continue helping patients in Goa especially those in need of my expertise. Finally, I would like to establish an institution of excellence in Goa for management of all types of liver diseases. I managed to get a super specialty block sanctioned for liver transplant in Goa Medical College with the help of the then Government in power, but it has yet to take off. This is something I envision for the future for Goa”.

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