KARACHI: When cardiac surgeon Dr Abdul Ghaffar Jatoi bought a plot in Clifton for his hospital in the 1970s, people laughed. It will sink, they scoffed. Indeed, at the time, this part of Karachi was swampy and barely two cars drove past all afternoon. But when it closed down, nearly four decades later, there was widespread panic that people would have nowhere to go.
Today Mideast Hospital stands no more, torn down six years ago after the elderly Dr Jatoi considered it best to wrap up. But this landmark’s memory lingers in Karachi’s mind. And on Tuesday night there was another turning point in its history as its creator passed away in London of a sudden heart attack.
Dr Abdul Ghaffer Jatoi was born on July 28, 1938 in New Jatoi in Naushahroferoze. He went to MH Khawaja DC High School in Nawabshah, Hyderabad Public School and Karachi Grammar School before going to Liaquat Medical College, Jamshoro where he received his MBBS in 1961, securing first position in Sindh.
It was while he was qualifying for his FRCS, or as a fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons in England, that he met his wife, Gertrude O’Hagen, a tough-as-nails Irish nurse. She had cut herself and was sent by the matron to Dr Jatoi, who was the doctor on call. A certain amount of Jatoi charm prevailed and by 1967 they were married in his village. Today she is called Tasneem and is known for her ability to speak Seraiki and remain calm during crises.
The couple returned to the UK and their daughters Natasha and Sasha were born. Dr Jatoi took his family with him to Houston, Texas where he trained with America’s famous heart surgeon, Denton Cooley. Their son Faisal was born and a year later the family, after briefly mulling moving to Brazil, decided to make their way home.
It took about five months for them to return to Pakistan as the adventurous Dr Jatoi hooked a caravan to a Chevrolet station wagon and they drove across the US before sailing for the UK. They meandered through Eastern Europe, Yugoslavia, Turkey, Iran and Afghanistan. “He would never knowingly take the same route while driving to the village,” recalls his son Faisal.
According to Faisal, his father set his heart on building a hospital after he was deeply affected by the stroke his father, Khan Saheb Ghulam Rasool Jatoi, suffered while on a trip to the drive-in cinema in Karachi.
Dr Jatoi bought the property in Clifton with his own money and then took a loan to raise the facility. It was a patient-friendly hospital with over a hundred beds and grew to serve Karachi’s residents and more immediately the DHA, Clifton area. Benazir Bhutto had surgery there twice and her brother Murtaza Bhutto was brought there the night he was killed.
The opening of Mideast Hospital was delayed as Dr Jatoi wanted ZA Bhutto to inaugurate it. As Bhutto was jailed, the then president, Fazal Illahi Chaudhry had to do the job instead, in 1977.
According to a story his sons tell, word of Dr Jatoi’s fame reached General Ziaul Haq’s ears and the dictator planned a ‘tour’ of Jinnah hospital with the aim of meeting the doctor who he wanted to consult over his daughter. Due to miscommunication, Dr Jatoi did not show up for the event and attracted the ire of the general as a result. As the story goes, Gen Zia declared that he would go after any doctors who worked with Dr Jatoi. According to Faisal and Farhad, instead of making others suffer, their father decided to retire and concentrate on Mideast.
Mideast Hospital reached its peak in the 1980s and was a profitable venture with 80% occupancy and robust cardiac, paediatric and maternity units. It was a novel facility for its central air conditioning at the time. “Surgeon Rahim, who built OMI hospital, would often come to consult Dr Jatoi,” recalls Dr Saadia Virk Rizvi, the CEO of South City Hospital whose history is closely linked to Mideast’s. She considers Dr Jatoi a mentor as he taught her valuable lessons in administration, finance and people management while she ran Mideast’s maternity wing for seven years. Dr Jatoi cared so much for his staff, especially the nurses and technicians, that, according to Dr Saadia, he asked her to absorb them at South City when his hospital wound up. Many of them were from New Jatoi. “You will never have a complaint with the people I’ve trained,” she quoted him as saying.
Mideast Hospital was also the “unofficial headquarters” of the Movement for the Restoration of Democracy (MRD). At one point Abdul Ghaffar was the only Jatoi brother in Pakistan but out of jail, quipped his sons. A grateful Benazir used to bake him cakes. “My mother has thank you notes she wrote him when she sent them over,” says Farhad.
But most of all, Dr Jatoi is perhaps known as the first person to do open-heart surgery in Pakistan. “It had never been done before and people were nervous,” explains Faisal. “But he said that the only way to know is to do it.” There was resistance over putting a human at risk, so Dr Jatoi declared he would operate on a calf which he did twice successfully at the NICVD. When he operated on a human, the event was televised on PTV.
Dr Jatoi had his flirtation with politics – he was a senator, an MNA and minister of communications. His elder brother, Ghulam Mustafa Jatoi, was close friend of ZA Bhutto and a founding member of the PPP, parted ways with the party after Benazir returned to Karachi in 1986. When Ghulam Mustafa launched his National Peoples Party (NPP), Dr Ghaffar stood by his brother. But it was gardening, creating and new projects that were his true love. Mideast Hospital had a beautiful garden at the back with peacocks. “Duniya idhar se udhar ho jaey,” recalls Dr Saadia, “but he’d stop and ask, Morr ne andey diey?”
Aside from gardening, he was extremely interested in farming. “He had started mango and lemon farming in the area and was planning to establish the biggest farmhouse of the country in Gharo, Thatta,” said his nephew Masroor Jatoi, referring to Dr Jatoi’s latest project.
He had wanted to build a Mideast Hospital in Hyderabad. The family owns a plot opposite Mideast’s and he had wanted to make another hospital there. While not all of his business ventures were successful, he was not short of experimenting with technology, almost beyond his time. He developed a state-of-the-art milk processing plant in the late 1980s and imported Danish machinery. He dabbled in textile spinning and ginning and in the 1970s imported Australian farm machinery that his workers rejected because it was too modern. They are using them now.
Most people will remember Dr Jatoi for his hospitality and fondness for all things sweet. He was severely diabetic but coasted along with the help of insulin. Ladoos, sesame seed halwa, parathas, mangoes, he could not resist and would never let a guest leave without eating something. He would cry out as he urged them to tuck in, “Ao diabetes ka ilaj karein!” In the end, his own heart gave out, but it seems he will remain in many for years to come.
With additional input by Hafeez Tunio.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 10th, 2012.
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