In 2010, Dr Sunil Kumar Hebbi a resident of Malleshwaram in Bengaluru experienced a gradual but sudden change in his life.
It was just another busy day for Dr Sunil as he was travelling via the Hosur-Chennai highway, in Tamil Nadu, when he encountered an accident victim on the road and rushed to administer first aid. He then proceeded to go with the victim to the nearest hospital to ensure that proper medical treatment was given.
A day later, he received a call from the victim’s mother where she thanked him profusely and also invited him to their home for a meal. “I went to their home and it was during my time there that the gravity of the situation struck me. If I hadn’t helped that boy, he might have succumbed to his injuries. The boy’s mother thanked me with her hands folded and tears streaming down her face.”
That one incident changed Dr Sunil’s entire life. It pushed him to rethink all the plans he had drawn up for his life and eventually in 2011 he quit his job at BGS Global Hospitals to set up a non-governmental organisation called Matru Siri Foundation, to provide medical aid to those who could not otherwise afford it.
Serving The Underserved
“Qualifying as a doctor from Bijapur Medical College and getting a job at a good private hospital was a dream that was nurtured not just by me but my entire family,” says Dr Sunil. Speaking about the struggles his family went through to educate him, he says, “To complete my medical degree my family had to take on a loan. So naturally when I got a well-paying job, it felt like all our troubles had ended.”
To a large extent that was true as well. Dr Sunil recalls working extremely hard to ensure that the family’s financial condition improves.
The incident with the accident victim shook Dr Sunil and while on one hand, he knew he had to find a way to help those who could not afford medical treatment, his own family’s condition did not allow him to quit right away. “I then decided to spend all my weekends and time off from work on helping patients from economically backward conditions. I started conducting various medical camps with the money I would put in from my pocket,” he shares.
Dr Sunil, knowing fully well that he had only the weekends to spare, says that he wanted to treat as many patients as he could. Therefore he decided to convert his car into a fully equipped mobile clinic. “That way I could just drive to a location and start seeing patients. I did not require any infrastructure,” he says.
In 2011 after he quit his job at the hospital he started spending all his time driving from one location to another, treating patients. He says, “While most of those who come for consultation cannot afford the fees I treat them pro-bono. I only charge patients who tell me they can afford my fees. So far I have been getting on because of the money that friends and others who read about my work donate to the cause.”
A Day in Dr Sunil’s Life
Even though Dr Sunil has been running his mobile clinic for over a decade, he says that COVID-19 has been a real game changer and he’s never been busier. “Initially, with the first wave none of us knew what had hit us and the medical fraternity bore the brunt of it as well. My phone during the COVID-19 peak months would buzz non-stop and I had no time for anything or anyone else.”
He continues, “My day begins at 8.00 am and while on some days it ends at 8.00 pm, on most days I am only done by 11.30 pm. In my car, I always carry essential medicines, a glucometer, oxygen tank, blood pressure (BP) monitor and also an ECG machine. I am accessible on my cell phone and also on social media platforms like Facebook and WhatsApp where patients reach out to me. According to the messages I receive, I plan my route for the day.”
During his growing up years, Dr Sunil recalls how much of a struggle getting good medical attention was. “People from my village, including my parents, had to travel for several kilometres before they could reach a doctor or get access to medical care. In fact, the closest primary health centre was almost 50 km away and in case of an emergency the experience was just harrowing.” This was also one of the driving factors for Dr Sunil taking up medicine – to be able to provide quick and efficient medical care to one and all.
Dr Sunil’s dedication to the cause is worth mentioning. In 2021, Dr Sunil lost his brother to COVID-19 and there was a lot of pressure from his immediate family to stop the mobile clinic. However, he says, “The distress phone calls I get do not allow me to simply switch off and sit at home.”
“This is my duty and there is no way I will turn my back on people who need me.”
So far, Dr Sunil has organised over 800 medical camps and provided treatment for over 1,20,000 outpatients from in and around Bengaluru. He is a recipient of many awards including one he received from Venkaiah Naidu, Vice President of India in 2018 for the outstanding work done by his NGO in the field of healthcare.
As we end our discussion, he urges people to come forward and donate – not just money but also their time and expertise to help reach out to as many more patients as possible. “The third wave is booming and the spread seems to be rampant. We are in dire need of money, medicines and manpower. So please come and volunteer.”
Dr Sunil is accessible on +91 97419 58428.
(Edited by Yoshita Rao)
Let us know how you felt