Intimate Interview with Dr. Mani – Writer and Paediatric Heart Surgeon

Dr. Mani - Paediatric heart Surgeon, Writer
Dr. Mani

I recently managed to convince Dr. Mani Sivasubramanian for an email interview and looks like we have got some deep insights from his vast experience, both on the professional and personal fronts. So friends, take 10 minutes out, grab a cup of coffee, and dive right in. There is some life-changing information out there:

Q. Please tell us something about yourself.

I’m a pediatric heart surgeon, fund-raiser, and writer.  I treat children born with birth defects of the heart (congenital heart disease, or CHD).

Q. You are a successful Pediatric Heart Surgeon. What got you interested in writing?

I’ve always enjoyed writing.  My early writing led to being recruited as Heart Disease Guide for  One thing led to another, and soon I was writing books, articles, reports, and blogging extensively.  Now my writing helps raise funds to sponsor operations for children from under-privileged families.

Q. What are the trends in digital publishing that have stood the test of time?

Much has changed about digital publishing since I first got involved in 1995.  Technology has improved.  Reach has exploded.  Distractions have mushroomed.  Attention spans dwindled.

Yet some things remained constant.

  1. Quality content still rules. When you add value to your audience, you retain their attention.
  2. Convenience and ease of consumption matter.  If your audience wants to read, give them books or text.  Or do audio or video programs instead.
  3. The price can match the value.  You might think ebooks can only be sold for a few dollars (or cents!) on Kindle or iBooks. That’s not true. Readers will pay more for value.  Much more.
  4. Trust comes before a sale.  Prospective buyers want to first know that you care about them, can offer what they need, before buying your books.

Q. Name some people who inspire Dr. Mani and why?

Harvard physician Dr. Paul Farmer who does non-profit work in Haiti and Africa remains my role model and hero for life.  His biography, “Mountains Beyond Mountains”, by Tracy Kidder is an inspirational read.

Maverick real-estate developer Frank McKinney is another mentor and role model.  He creates and sells multi-million dollar properties to raise money that builds low-cost housing for the homeless in Haiti through his Caring House Project.

In India, it was my privilege to be closely associated with Dr. Devi Prasad Shetty during the formative years of Narayana Hrudayalaya. That it has scaled the heights it has now reached is no accident. It was a deeply enriching and inspirational experience.

And each of my little patients inspires me – just by being such tough fighters and indomitable spirits.

Q. I have heard about your charity work for children with CHD who cannot afford the cost of treatment. Can you tell us a little more about it?

In India, there are an estimated 300,000 children born with congenital heart defects every year.  Thousands await treatment in my home state alone.  Over 90% of these families cannot afford the high cost of treatment.

I wanted to help some of them.  It started as a challenge – to try and raise money to fund ONE heart operation.  That took eight months.

And then, I thought… why not try harder.  The next year, we funded 3 operations – and then set up a registered non-profit trust.

That’s when momentum started building. People.  Events.  Policies. Resources.  All magically appeared, and aligned with our purpose. We’ve now sponsored 114 heart operations for kids with CHD.  To be part of this effort, please look at and see how you can help.

Q. How do you solicit funds from donors?

Right now, our primary funding is from a share of ebook sales, and direct contributions by donors in India who have heard about the Foundation’s work.  Soon we will be implementing a few other ideas.

Q. Your professional work demands high concentration levels. How do you stay distraction-free during your working hours?

How to Focus - Time Management

My answer is just one word – Focus.

While engaged on any task, I’m laser-focused on getting it done. Operating on the heart has trained me well.  While performing an intricate surgical procedure, there’s no room for distraction. Extending that practice into other areas helps me concentrate and get things done.  There’s more in my ebook titled “How To Focus – Beat Procrastination and Get Things Done”.

Q. How do you engage with prospects in this fast and busy world?

Set limits – and stick to them.

I try to keep every engagement personal and responsive.  Thankfully, I no longer get hundreds of messages, but it still takes time.  I’ve found it helpful to learn how to terminate conversations or say “No”… without being rude or abrupt.  That skill alone has saved many hours while interacting with people from around the world.

Q. How do you manage work-life balance?

It’s a juggling act, made easier by imagining important areas of your life as crystal balls.  Health.  Family and relationships.  Work and finances.  Spirituality and purpose.  Each is a crystal ball that you must juggle deftly all the time.

Drop any one, and it will shatter beyond repair.  Focus too heavily on any one, and you increase the risk of dropping one of the others.

Have a system of priority-setting.  Whenever you’re called to choose between two options, rank them by priority – and do whatever is more important.  That ensures your time and energy is devoted to what matters most.

Of course, the key is to set the RIGHT priority value for each activity or group!

Q. There is so much new information being generated every minute. How do you stay updated and yet, avoid getting deluged?

Long ago, it was realistic to “stay on top of things”.  Not any longer.  Instead of obsessing over keeping up with ALL new information (which is like trying to drink from a fire hose!), I segment my interests narrowly and use digital tools, books, magazines, and social networking to regularly receive practical and pertinent information.

I read for at least 2 hours daily.  That habit has been helpful in keeping up with new things.

Q. There must be some moments in your life when you get very frustrated. How do you keep motivated at such times?

It might sound cliched, but if I had a dollar for every time I’ve thought of throwing up my hands and just giving up, I’d be very rich indeed! 🙂

But at times like this, it helps to concentrate on your WHY… your purpose… your reason for doing whatever you do.  For me, it’s to help little children live. That’s a powerful motivation.  One that you can’t ignore or brush off.

Even if, temporarily, I’m disheartened or upset about something, I have to bounce back – because of my reason why.

An accountant at a non-profit seminar put it very nicely.  He said, “When I add up numbers on my spreadsheet, I don’t see rows and columns of figures.  I see the faces of the aged men, destitute women and helpless children whom I touch through my work.”

Seeing BEYOND to the abstract, intangible, infinitely more powerful reason WHY you do what you do, is inspirational and energizing.  It will carry you beyond any transient frustration or setback.

Find your powerful purpose.  And align whatever you do with it.

Q. Tell us about a moment or development in your life which changed your outlook to life in a big way?

That would be the year of my medical school internship.  When I first saw death and dying close at hand.

I still remember holding the hand of a scared young man with a terminal illness as he breathed his last, all alone in a medical ward far away from home, no relatives by his side… and he was barely a couple of years older than I was at the time.

Seeing loss at a young age made me acutely aware of the “unfairness” of life.

It would be many more years before I could accept it, rationalize it, and realize that my role as a doctor was to try and reduce the “degree of unfairness” – to try and improve these odds of survival.

That experience set the tone for the rest of my professional life. It probably guided my path into paediatric heart surgery, and my non-profit work to help under-privileged children.  A struggle to improve the odds.

Q. What role do religion and spirituality have in your life?

Appreciating the sacredness of every human life, regardless of man-made distinctions, is a spiritual lesson from my professional work which permeates every engagement and interaction I have with people.

It has distilled into a 4-word philosophy which guides me – “Be kind. Help others.”

Q. Did you face any special advantage or disadvantage working from India?

There were definitely some advantages, the nicest of all being the favorable exchange rate of dollars to rupees.  I mean, $200 converts to Rs.12,000 – a nice chunk of cash!

But there were serious disadvantages.  If you tried to set up an online business (or fundraising venture) in the late 1990s or early 2000s, you’d need imagination, creativity, and the ability to find workarounds and convoluted processes for even the simplest things. There were constraints galore.

But here’s the thing.  If you’re going to let obstacles or hurdles get you down, you’re probably not thinking like an entrepreneur.

When you adopt a “solution oriented” focus, you’ll find a way.  No, it may not be easy, quick or cheap.  But there is always a way. You’ve just got to find it!  Start with that mindset, and you’ll win.

Q. You have published a few ebooks. Please tell me something about these.

I’ve published 65+ ebooks, even authored an adventure novel (under a pen name) – but I’ll talk about just one of them…

47 Hearts - Live your life with passion, purpose and persistence
47 Hearts – Live your life with passion, purpose and persistence

“47 HEARTS – How To Live Your Dreams, With Passion & Purpose”

It’s special because it shares 47 principles for making your dreams come true – and is based on how my own dream of funding heart surgery for kids workout out.

All proceeds from 47 HEARTS go to fund a child’s operation, so it’s a real-life case study of the concept it teaches… to pursue your heart’s desire with all the energy and passion that you can.  It’s message is…

“Believe it – and you’ll see it”.

Q. Can you share your roadmap for the rest of 2014?

Already 2014 is shaping up into being one of my most exciting years in recent times.  I’m involved in some really interesting projects.

One has to do with getting people with chest pain to medical attention more effectively.  Another is a venture into the fascinating arena of molecular biology and genomics.  On the non-profit front, we’re set to raise more money and sponsor more heart operations for kids this year, thanks to support and encouragement from new donors.

And I’m finishing a book that has been in the works for 7 years – which I hope will be successful.

So this year will be busy and exciting, mind-expanding and pushing new limits.  At the end of it, I expect to be tired, yet satisfied. And to have grown a little more.

That’s my goal for every year – to grow a little more than the previous one, in every way that matters.

I hope it will be yours, too 🙂

Arun: If you liked the thoughts that Dr. Mani shared above, please post your comments below, may be just say “Hi!”.

See also: My interview of Declan Dunn and Akash Gautam.