As the news of doctors transplanting a genetically modified pig’s heart into a patient in a Maryland hospital in the US emerged on Tuesday, Assam’s Dr Dhani Ram Baruah said that what America has managed in 2022 he had done back in 1997.
Dr Baruah, now 72, was embroiled in a controversy when, in 1997, he performed a xenotransplantation (transplanting organs from one species to another) surgery and managed to transplant a pig’s heart and lungs on a 32-year-old man.
Following the surgery, performed in Baruah’s clinic in Sonapur, on Guwahati outskirts, the 32-year-old survived for seven days, before dying of multiple infections.
The transplantation led to a huge controversy and the then Asom Gana Parishad government in Assam instituted an inquiry and ordered the arrest of Saikia and Hong Kong surgeon Dr Jonathan Ho Kei-Shing, who had assisted him in the surgery.
Held guilty of unethical procedure and culpable homicide under the Transplantation of Human Organs Act, 1994, Baruah and Ho Kei-Shing were both imprisoned for 40 days.
Speaking on Baruah’s behalf from Dr Dhani Ram Baruah Heart Institute & Research Centre at Sonapur, where he has continued researching cures to various ailments, Dalimi Baruah, who claimed to be his long-time research associate, said that he was not greatly moved by the development in Maryland.
“It is not a new thing for Sir (Baruah), as this is something he already did in 1997; so what is the big deal now,” asked Dalimi.
Dalimi said her mentor’s ability to speak properly was affected after he had undergone a brain surgery and tracheostomy following a stroke a few years ago. “However, we can understand what he’s saying – he told us that it was likely the US doctors used the same procedure and knowledge as he had done in 1997. He has repeatedly said that pig organs can be used in humans, but no one listened to him. In fact, after he was released from jail, he found that his whole hospital was burnt down,” she said.
She said that Baruah “had not got the respect he deserved.”
Critics said Baruah’s claims and medical procedures were not taken seriously, nor accepted by the scientific community, because he never got his findings scientifically peer-reviewed.
Dalimi said that in the last few years, Baruah has been working on “new research” so that “humans can live disease-free”.
In an email interview to The Indian Express in 2019, following the announcement by a UK-based transplant surgeon that his team would transplant a pig’s kidney into a human’s body, Baruah had said that his breakthrough was suppressed by the international fraternity. Speaking on the UK development, he had said: “It is the same old wine filled in a new bottle. I said all this 24 years ago.”