A doctor who saved thousands of lives by providing timely and cost-effective cardiac care services to his patients even during the pandemic finally succumbed to the deadly COVID-19 infection on April 28, 2021, after battling the disease for more than 10 days.
Professor (Dr) Fazal Karim, the head of the department of cardiology at Lucknow’s Era Medical College, was known for his dedication to his patients. He often even ran from the ICCU (intensive coronary care unit) to the main gate of the hospital whenever a person arrived in a critical condition so as to take charge of the patient as fast as possible.
The news of Dr Karim’s untimely demise sent shockwaves through Lucknow’s medical community, past and present. Meesam Ali Khan, the pro chancellor of Era University, said: “Era’s Lucknow Medical College and Hospital (ELMC&H) family has lost a beloved member. In life we meet a number of good people, but Dr Karim stood higher than anyone else. His departure has strengthened our dedication to work for the poor.”
Dr Harinder Bali, chairman of Paras Cardiac Sciences, Haryana, remembered his years as Dr Karim’s colleague. “He joined Era Medical College as the chief cardiologist and built the department from scratch,” said Dr Bali. “Even though I moved away and lost touch with him, I often heard about the great service he was doing for the people of Lucknow, particularly those from the lower socioeconomic groups.”
For Dr. M.M.A. Faridi, the dean of Era Medical College, Dr. Karim’s loss is irreparable. “Dr. Karim was always available for his patients at any time of the day or night. Along with the other cardiologists at the hospital, he was on duty almost 24 hours. His patients looked up to him for support, treatment, and everything in between,” he said.
“What a wonderful person he was, very simple yet highly motivated and dedicated to his profession,” said Professor (Dr) Abbas Ali Mahdi, secretary general of the Indian Academy of Biomedical Sciences and head of the department of clinical biochemistry at King George’s Medical University, Lucknow. Professor Mahdi added: “Dr Karim was loved and respected by his patients, colleagues and students. This is really a great loss Era and to the patients who needed the benefit of his expertise.”
‘Cardiac care for all’
An alumni of the Post Graduate Institute of Medical Educations and Research, Chandigarh, Dr Karim did his MD in internal medicine and DM in cardiology and joined the cardiac team at ELMC&H in October 2015 after working at the Fortis Hospital, Mohali, which is known for cutting edge services in cardiology. His motto was ‘Cardiac care for all’.
Within six years of his arrival at ELMC&H, Dr. Karim transformed the department of cardiology into a state-of-the-art advance cardiac care facility that provided quality cardiac care at a very low cost. After taking care of his patients physically, Dr. Karim sat with them to review their financial status and help them have their expenses reimbursed via schemes like Ayushman Bharat. Newspaper obituaries after Dr. Karim’s death quoted people he had treated as saying that he had even brought them meals from his own house.
I was Dr Karim’s student before I became a junior doctor at the EMC&H and remember discussing with him last September some of my ideas for digital health projects. He listened carefully and told me we must try to implement these ideas in cardiology care. He had his own ideas, he said. One of them was to increase the reach of cardiac care services in tier 2 cities and villages via a collaborative network that would offer timely mobile ECG services, digital AI-based models for detection of myocardial infarction and teleconsultations by expert cardiologists. This project would have required in its first phase 100 dedicated health workers and it was due for a trial run after the pandemic ended.
But the pandemic has continued and Lucknow has lost Dr Karim.
The best way to describe what Dr Karim meant to the people and medical community of Lucknow is with this Urdu couplet,
“Hazaaron saal, nargis apni benoori pe roti hai .
Badi mushkil se hota hai chaman main deedawar paida”