In the first 20 years of independence, Kazakhstan has had many successes and, among its most recent, has been in the field of cardio vascular surgery. Heart transplants are now performed in Kazakhstan at the capital’s National Research Cardiac Surgery Center (NRCSC) headed by Dr. Yury Pya, the center’s chairman of the board.
On Aug. 8, 2012, Pya with a team of surgeons performed the first-ever heart transplant in independent Kazakhstan. He is a renowned cardiac surgeon at the international level, the main supernumerary cardiac surgeon of the Ministry of Healthcare and Social Development and a graduate of the Second Moscow State Medical Pirogov University.
EdgeKz interviewed Pya to learn more about this cutting-edge doctor and his cardiac surgery center.
Pya’s parents were Koreans deported from Far East [Russia during the repression in 1937] to the Kyzylorda region. “I could say I am from Kyzylorda, although later I moved to Taraz to go to school. So I could say I was conceived in Kyzylorda and born in Taraz,” Pya told EdgeKz.
Pya graduated in the Soviet Union in 1974. “It was no secret that the best universities were in the capitals of each Soviet republic and naturally the capital of the then-Soviet Union was Moscow, so my ambitions were to enroll there,” Pya remembered.
Pya grew up thinking about becoming a physicist, but his mother urged him to study medicine. “My mother influenced my final decision [to attend medical school]. She said that she could see me as a future medic – a surgeon in particular. At first I didn’t like hospitals. I think no one likes the ‘hospital’ smell, especially at the dentist’s, people are repulsed by it,” Pya said.
Pya’s career had begun in the city of Tula, Russia. He later relocated to Frunze (now Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan) and later to Turkey to continue his professional career.
In 2003, he received the diploma of a candidate of medical sciences at the Bakulev Scientific Center of Cardiovascular Surgery in Moscow. In 2010, the Higher Attestation Commission of the Ministry of Education and Science of the Russian Federation awarded him the degree of Doctor of Medical Sciences.
It is no surprise that he was entrusted to undertake the leading role at the NRCSC given his previous practical experience, excellent education and scientific training.
In December 2011, due to the center’s introduction of the technology of implantation of a miniature version of a ventricular assist device or artificial heart model called HeartWare, Kazakhstan made the list of the 22 most-developed countries in the field of cardiac surgery.
Pya, an avid cyclist who spends most of his time either in surgery or on the phone giving consultations to his patients, strongly believes that Kazakhstan has just begun the long journey in the area of cardiac research and realizes the difficult task his center is facing.
“Our clinic is as young as our capital and to win people’s trust we will need years [of hard work]. One can rapidly publicize anything but medicine. One can be born and become a virtuoso violinist at five … but in medicine it doesn’t work like that,” he said.
According to the surgeon, heart diseases today are “the number one killer in the world, as they are often referred to. Each year, around 15
million people die from cardiovascular diseases. There are no natural disasters, not even car accidents that can compare [to those numbers].” Lifestyle, genetics and daily stress all affect the human heart, Pya noted.
Challenges Facing Kazakh Healthcare
On a larger scale, Pya sees corruption among key challenges to Kazakhstan’s healthcare, although one that is being faced firmly both by his center and by the authorities generally.
“Today, one of the challenges in our medical system is corruption, starting from education; I mean in medical universities. The [medical] knowledge base [upon graduation] from one of the medical institutions is not comparable to any European university. But I would like to take Singapore as an example. If I am not mistaken [the first prime minister] Lee Kuan Yew transformed a backward country bogged down in corruption into one of the most developed and successful in Asia today. It is the least corrupted with high-quality education that can easily compare to some in the United States, for instance. Kazakhstan has the potential to do this. At this point, Kazakhstan has reached a stable political position and the country is still developing, and as long as corruption exists, it would be hard to make significant changes [in this field],” Pya commented.
“I can’t fight [corruption] alone, but if I win people’s trust to follow my work, they will do the same thing. So to battle corruption in healthcare, one needs to [learn] to trust people, believe they can change and do it. This is why I bet on the younger generation who has not yet had the taste of corruption. I think one of the reasons our center is successful is because we managed to get rid of corrupted ways and I believe that when you create such an aura then no one can destroy it,” the surgeon added.
Pya has been working at the center for more than 11 years and has formed a team of young and dedicated individuals. “I don’t mean only medics. These are nurses, technical staff and administrative staff whose goal is to make this center a center to be proud of and make a change. These are people who work selflessly and love their job. Because if a person loves his or her job passionately, financial success will follow. If one is chasing the money only, one can easily lose it,” said Pya, who is also fond of philosophy.
The NRSCS team has received training to improve and upgrade their qualifications at clinics in the United States, Germany, France, Israel, the Czech Republic, Lithuania, Russia and other nations.
Pya’s credo is “We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children.” The Native American proverb inspires him to continue to work by leading by example.
“[As a doctor], nationality is my least concern. And although our center accommodates mostly Kazakhstan nationals, we have also had foreign citizens in the past. Speaking of foreign patients, in the past two years most of them are from neighboring Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Russia and only a few were from the U.S., Canada and Western Europe, Egypt, Australia and Tajikistan. We need to be reasonable as these countries are geographically too far from Kazakhstan.”
Pya is fluent in Russian, Kazakh, Turkish and English and has an impressive resume and international experience. Yet he chose Astana for his further professional development.
“The move of the capital to Astana has changed many lives, including mine. When I first received the invitation to move to Astana, I thought that this would become my new city, where one starts from scratch. I was over 40 years old back then and in cardio surgery this is the age when one acquires the required skills of independence. I realized that I could be useful here and do something worthwhile for the country, even though I lost a lot financially. However, to be frank, at the time I was already quite stable financially. Yet there is only one life and I believe we all in our lifetime need to do something worthwhile for the country. In this case, some may be shy to declare but I am not afraid to say it was patriotism.”
“I am a happy and lucky man. I had the chance to move to Astana and execute my own life plans and continue to implement my ideas here in our beautiful city. The [capital] move matches my own ambitious plans to contribute to cardio surgery and I hope that we are on the right track with our center. I would like to emphasize that we even managed to launch such a program as heart transplantation. It doesn’t take one person to do that. This is not a medical but a social issue and I would like to say thanks to my destiny that brought me here and thanks to all the people who surround me here, my colleagues and, of course, to all my patients for their trust to us. I also have a wish that the new generation wouldn’t be [easily] tempted by the idea to leave the country for the better but they would be inspired by the idea to make this country better for themselves. But doing so, one needs to realize that he or she is not doing it only for themselves but for the generations to come.”
Pya’s contribution to the development of the domestic healthcare system has been widely recognized. In 2006, he was given an award for excellent work in the healthcare system; in 2011, he received an award for his contribution to the development of the country’s medical system; in 2012, at the Fifth Forum of the Patriots of the Republic, he was named the Patriot of the Year. Pya was awarded with the national prize Altyn Adam – Person of the Year in the category Physician in 2012. The same year, he was given Kazakhstan’s Order of Parasat.
In related news, Astana hosted on Aug. 29-30 for the first time the Third National Congress of Cardiac Surgeons organized by the World Society of Cardio Thoracic Surgeons. Some 52 foreign experts and surgeons attended.