Dr. M. Khalilullah: the man who developed the first indigenous pacemaker

The man who set the heart beating
Saira Mujtaba meets the man who developed the first indigenous pacemaker on his 80th birhtday.

“These days people write ‘Padma Shri’ in bold letters on their name plates after getting the award, but being a such a close friend, I got to know today itself that he’s got a Padma Shri as well as a Padma Bhushan” says a friend of Dr. M. Khalilullah, who turned 80 this June. A career spanning more than half a century, Dr. Khalilullah has given every single moment of his life in the service of humanity, by making innovations and advancements in the field of cardiology. Dr. Khalilullah is credited for developing the first indigenous pacemaker of the country, equipment for cardiac monitoring and resuscitation with innovating technique.

Though developing the first pacemaker of the country remains the magnum opus of his exemplary medical career, he introduced various modes of investigations and treatment of heart disease for the first time in the country, noted among them are trouble shooting of pacemakers, research in the field of cardiac pacing and dual chamber pacing, technique of Digital Substraction Angioplasty, dynamic electrocardiography using computerised Holter monitoring system, computerised stress testing and detailed electrophysiological studies, endocardial mapping of Supraventricular Tachyacrhythmias and many other leading techniques that have helped saving millions of lives. The Epicardial mapping and surgery of Wolf-Parkinson White Syndrome technique was established for the first time in Asia, thanks to the tireless efforts and sheer hard work of Dr. Khalilullah.

Yet, being a pioneer of so many path-breaking techniques in the country, his humility and child-like curiosity, both have only grown manifold all these years. Even today, when he’s become an octogenarian, he works 17-18 hours a day. During a conversation he divulged “there are two things that God has not blessed me with- to eat and to sleep.” My instant response was the famous Persianised Urdu saying, ‘kam guftan, Kam Khamdan and kam khurdan, aqlmandi ki alamatein hain’  talking less, sleeping less and eating less are characteristics of wisdom, to which Dr. Khalilullah’s modest being gives a smile at that. 

Few doctors match the kind of passion and dedication he has for cardiology. His wife, married to him for 48 years now says, “When I got married to him, he told me “Don’t expect me to take you on holidays or restaurants or on romantic dates. I’ve to build my career and serve humanity by doing something extraordinary.” She adds. “This man breathes cardiology…every moment of his life is about cardiology.” Dr. Khalilullah has the same smile playing on his lips while his wife goes on telling about her husband and his love for his profession. He’s a rarity, a thorough professional and a human being with an impeccable character. He doesn’t leave a patient unless the latter has been taken off the ventilator. In the past 48 years, he has never returned home before midnight. It was this innate thirst for knowledge that led him to do DM (Cardiology) from the All India Institute of Medical Sciences in 1969. Post his DM, he got a job offer from Pune Chest Hospital to set up a cardiology center at a salary of Rs 50 per month. It was at this time that he revived a few patients from Sudden Cardiac Death and it became a rage in the 60s that a man has helped reviving people from death.
It’s been more than 50 years now and modern cardiology would have never been the same without Dr. M. Khalilullah’s vision and hardwork. Millions of patients who are living a healthy life because of a pacemaker, owe their life to Dr. Khalilullah. The famous couplet by Nasir Kazmi aptly befits the doc
“Dil dhadakne ka sabab yaad aaya, woh teri yaad thi, ab yaad aaya.”