Dr Mahadevan has been treating HIV-positive persons for long, and donates a large portion of his fee to various causes.

Man with a golden heart This Coimbatore doctor tells his patients to pay what they want
news Inspiration Tuesday, April 25, 2017 - 18:35

“Many people say god exists. I don't know if god exists, but Mahadevan sir exists like a god for us,” says Supriya*, a person with HIV.

Supriya is among the thousands of patients who have had their lives touched by Dr K Mahadevan (60), who has spent his life treating patients living with HIV. What makes Mahadevan truly special, though, is not merely that he treats thousands of patients each year, but that he has been doing it virtually free of cost.

At his clinic on Cross Cut Road in Coimbatore, Mahadevan tells all his patients that he does not insist on any fees at all. “If at all they want to give, let them give whatever they want,” he says.

Dr Mahadevan’s clinic has a box in which patients can contribute what they wish as fees. A portion of the money he earns every month is used to pay his rent, run his home and pay his receptionist. The rest is donated to causes like “Sneha for Positive Faces” of Nirmala College, an initiative for HIV-positive people.

Dr Mahadevan narrates that when he first opened his clinic in 1994, he was a Professor at the Government Medical College, Coimbatore in the Department of Sexually Transmitted Diseases, and he would charge patients Rs 20 for a consultation. Then, an encounter with an HIV-positive person named Gowri, let him see the difficult plight of persons living with HIV.

“From that day onwards we made it free for HIV positive people. Then I thought why it should be free for HIV-positive people alone. All people are suffering – whether it is those with common cold or leprosy or HIV. So, we thought we need not ask for any fees from the suffering people who come to the clinic,” he explains.  

Going beyond that, says Kumar*, a patient who has known Dr Mahadevan for 15 years, the doctor often contributes out of his own pocket to help people in need. “He spends almost all his earnings for other people. He has told us that he has been planning to buy a house for 25 years, but has never managed it,” says Kumar.

Dr Mahadevan has long held a reputation in Coimbatore for not only treating patients almost for free, but also for being one of the first doctors in the district to treat and care for persons living with HIV. As Meenakshi, President of the HIV Ullor Nala Sangam, an organisation working for the welfare of HIV-positive persons, narrates, Dr Mahadevan’s arrival in Coimbatore in the early 1990s was a highly fortunate occurrence at a time when HIV-positive persons faced widespread ostracism in society, and even in hospitals.

“He was one of the first people to come forward to treat persons with HIV. Today, if there are many persons with HIV who are living happy and healthy lives, it's only thanks to him,” says Meenakshi.

Dr Mahadevan says that it was his encounter with his first patient after he had completed his post-graduation studies that convinced him to dedicate himself to treating patients with HIV. That first patient, an Assistant Director in the Tamil film industry, killed himself just a day after meeting with the doctor. “He was looking good; there was no trace of opportunistic infection, no other problem with him. Just because he was found to be HIV-positive, he committed suicide,” narrates Dr Mahadevan.

This set the doctor wondering about why many persons diagnosed with HIV took the extreme step. The diseases that afflict an HIV-positive person are no different than those that afflict any other person, he points out.

“They get coughs, colds, pneumonia, TB, diarrhea – all things that come to all other people also. There is nothing new in this. You can treat with the same medicines. But, unfortunately, many doctors are afraid of treating this, and because many doctors are afraid, relatives are afraid of touching the patient, and nobody is taking the care of the patient, he goes to the extreme of committing suicide. That is what society is doing. That is what we wanted to break,” explains Dr Mahadevan.

Not only did Dr Mahadevan spend his career treating HIV-positive patients, but together with “Sneha for Positive Faces” of Nirmala College, he has been conducting medical camps and outreach programmes for hundreds of persons with HIV since 1999. Beginning with just five persons in its first year, the programme now reaches out to 819 HIV-positive persons, he says. The programme even supports the education of many children of HIV-positive persons.

“Many people asked me, including doctors, ‘These HIV-positive children are going to die. Why are you wasting your money on their well-being?’” reveals Dr Mahadevan. He countered this question by pointing out that he had no guarantees about how long he or anyone else would live either.

“Let them enjoy school, education and college life. If their life is extended by one day by their activity in the school or college, I am happy for that,” he says.

Meenakshi narrates that among the many children that Dr Mahadevan helped educate, is a mechanical engineer who now lives in Bengaluru and supports many other HIV-positive children. “Because of Dr Mahadevan, that boy is now in a place in his life where he is able to support other children affected with HIV,” she says.

*Names changed to protect privacy.

(With inputs from Sudhakar)

Also read: Thousands gather for funeral of ‘20-rupees doctor’, the man who turned god for the poor

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