Dr Vijay Kakkar

Credit: The Board of Trustees of the Science Museum

My father had seen a number of patients, particularly young people, die of pulmonary embolism – a big blood clot that ends up in the lungs after surgery and can be fatal. At the time it was considered one of the inevitable consequences of major surgery.  

Beginning in 1965, my father demonstrated that silent blood clots that had no clinical signs or symptoms formed in the legs soon after the operation. Because they were ‘silent’ they were left untreated and would eventually break off and become the source of fatal blood clots in the lungs. He started to pursue the idea that you could prevent these blood clots through small doses of an anticoagulant, heparin, before and after operation. That was quite a controversial idea and he was very much criticised by the medical establishment. He did a series of clinical trials and led the world’s first ever mega study to prove that low dose heparin had a huge impact on surgical mortality. And now his ideas have become standard practice throughout the world.

Coming from India in the 1960s, he was definitely an outsider. The area he was working in was considered to be unfashionable and meaningless, and hadn’t been studied much. But it has turned out to be an area that has saved millions of lives.

Told by Lord Ajay Kakkar