10 years of giving hope to burn victims

Dr S Raja Sabapathy, director, Ganga Hospital, Coimbatore
Dr S Raja Sabapathy, director, Ganga Hospital, Coimbatore

Over 600 burn victims have benefited immensely since 2012 through Hope after Fire (HAF), a unique flagship project of RC Coimbatore Metropolis, RID 3201, being implemented in partnership with the Ganga Hospital, Coimbatore.

Leading the project is club member Dr S Raja Sabapathy, director of the hospital and head of its reconstructive surgery wing. He points out that following a series of surgical reconstructions, the victims are able to return home in a much better condition and, more importantly, able to use their limbs to do productive work.

We want to spread awareness about HAF so that more people benefit from this initiative.
Palaniappan, President, RC Coimbatore Metropolis

The 1,000th surgery under the project was performed in July ’21 on Nikki Devi by Dr Sabapathy. Nikki and her husband, both hailing from UP, are migrant workers settled in Erode with their two children. Five years ago, a major fire accident while cooking left Nikki’s face disfigured. The fingers of her left arm got plastered together rendering the arm totally useless. “We have done the first stage of a very major surgery and in six months, following a couple of more procedures, she will be fine,” smiles Dr Sabapathy.

Nikki Devi on whom the 1000th surgery of the Hope after Fire project was performed
Nikki Devi on whom the 1000th surgery of the Hope after Fire project was performed.

These surgeries are carried out free for needy patients, says Palaniappan, president, RC Coimbatore Metropolis. The club takes care of the hospital expenses and the consumables, while the
hospital contributes by waiving surgeons’ fees and other professional charges. The project value until Aug ’21 is ₹6.29 crore ($845,276). Successive leaders of the club have wholeheartedly supported it through regular fundraising (about ₹3.99 crore) and the hospital has contributed its services worth ₹2.3 crore since 2012. Until August 2021, 1,010 reconstructive surgeries have been performed on 606 burn victims.

Thilagavathy, a beneficiary of Hope after Fire, is now able to lead a near-normal life, participating in household chores and helping her husband in his weaving activities
Thilagavathy, a beneficiary of Hope after Fire, is now able to lead a near-normal life, participating in household chores and helping her husband in his weaving activities

“We are keen to not only keep it going but also expand its reach significantly to cover many more such people. Money is not a constraint. We want to spread awareness about HAF so that more people benefit from this initiative,” says Palaniappan.

“Most of the fire accident survivors wish they were dead rather than alive and face societal rejection. Disfigured and deformed, they battle depression and older people face the additional challenge of earning a livelihood,” says the surgeon. With right treatment such disfigurement can be corrected. But it requires more than just one sitting, and a lot of patience and resolve, he adds.

Srija, whose feet were badly burnt, walking with special shoes after a series of reconstructive surgeries.
Srija, whose feet were badly burnt, walking with special shoes after a series of reconstructive surgeries.

HAF has earned accolades from senior Rotary leaders such as PRIPs Rajendra Saboo and K R ­Ravindran and PRID C Basker for the functional transformation brought about in the survivors. Most of these beneficiaries are leading near-normal lives and even contributing to the family’s financial wellbeing, says Dr Sabapathy with quite pride.

“Each patient we have treated has a story to tell. But when we see the visible outcome and the immense joy the cure gives the patients and the people surrounding them, it is then we realise the power and magic of Rotary,” he adds. HAF has been ­shortlisted for the ­British Medical ­Journal’s South Asia Award and he is hopeful of winning it.

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