The work of the Ladakh Heart Foundation began serendipitously in 1997 when Lama Chogyal, a monk and the president of the LHF, was stuck in New Delhi while trying to obtain a visa to go to England. He decided to make constructive use of his time by visiting Ladakhi patients who were in Delhi hospitals. This experience taught Lama Chogyal two basic things: (a) many Ladakhi people have preventable heart disease and (b) that it was a jarring and overwhelmingly expensive experience for Ladakhi people to come to Delhi and stumble their way through what was basically a foreign country trying to find medical care for their illnesses.
Lama Chogyal resolved to do something. His first move was to consult with Ladakhi physicians to find out what could be done. He decided that a useful first thing to do would be to purchase large amounts of penicillin and distribute it to villages, along with proper education about rheumatic heart disease (RHD) and strep throat, so that the then prevalent RHD could be prevented by the simple measures of diagnosing and treating strep throat. Since that time, new cases of RHD have almost disappeared from Ladakh.
Next came an outreach health care program to deliver health care to remote villages. Lama Chogyal found the money to purchase a vehicle and equipment, organized the physicians and the program took off and is still running to this day. Then the idea arose to bring cardiologists and heart surgeons to Ladakh from the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) in Dehli – one of India’s premiere medical institutions. Lama Chogyal picked up the phone and for seven years now, AIIMS’s physicians and surgeons have been providing quality medical care to heart patients from all over Ladakh at week long summer clinics in Leh. An average of 300 patients have been seen every summer in these clinics.
Finally, the New Delhi physicians asked Lama Chogyal to construct a hospital here in Leh that would specialize in providing comprehensive cardiac care. Dr. Samphat Kumar, Professor of Cardio-Thoracic Surgery at AIIMS, offered to move to Leh and work full time for the LHF hospital. The government of Ladakh contributed a piece of land. The Dalai Lama, who has been a patron from the very beginning, as well as many others, contributed significant amounts of money, and three years ago, construction began. At this point in time, the hospital building is complete, and funds have been obtained to both finish the electrical and plumbing infrastructure of the building and to purchase furniture.
The LHF has now expanded it’s role. In addition to running a fully-functioning hospital, it provides mobile health education and treatment camps throughout the district of Ladakh. It also operates a coffee shop in the tourist district of Leh, profits from which help support LHF activities. We at ATMA have been involved with the LHF since 2012 and continue to support the great work they do.
We encourage you to watch this documentary on the Ladakh Heart Foundation and the great work they are doing to help the people of the Indian Himalayas!
A Thousand Metres Above (ATMA) is an international non-profit organization that supports healthcare initiatives in the Himalayas.