On August 26, 2023, the Rotary Club of Madras South, RID 3232, celebrated a rare landmark — the completion of 500 heart surgeries over the past six years for children under 18 — at a special event. “Most of the children were under 13,” says K Saravanan, past president and the brain behind the project.
Several institutions partnered in the project, which cost ₹3.4 crore so far. They include the Tamil Nadu government, through its Chief Minister’s Insurance Scheme; The Rotary Foundation; RC Pasadena, California, USA; RI districts 3232 and 5300; corporates Ford Motor Company, CAMS and Tagros International (all from Chennai), and Have a Heart Foundation, Bengaluru. The surgeries were conducted at the Soorya Hospital, Chennai.
The project was supported by three global grants from TRF. Around 130 more surgeries will be carried out over next year with available funds. DG Ravi Raman has promised assistance and co-operation if the club seeks to extend the project.
At the meeting, a few mothers recalled their heart-wrenching experience of bringing up babies with defective hearts, leaving many in the audience moist-eyed. The project had meant a new life for the entire family, the mothers said.
*Baby Diyasri is three years old. She had a heart defect at birth.
Her father is a coolie. Her mother Geetha said her child had breathing problems and would go blue in the face. They were turned away from many hospitals — any surgery would be both complex and expensive. They heard about Soorya hospital, where they were treated kindly and assured of help. A complex surgery was performed on July 27. Geetha said at the Rotary event, a month after the surgery, that her kid was normal and fit.
In March 2014, Saravanan sustained a severe heart attack. Two stents were fixed, and he gradually recovered, but he wondered how the less privileged could cope with such a crisis.
*Baby Ruthrasri, now 15 months old, daughter of a driver, was diagnosed at birth with a small hole that kept enlarging. The family lives in Coimbatore. Mother Mahalakshmi’s visits to various hospitals were an ordeal and no hope was held out for the baby. But she heard about Soorya and RC Madras South, and her world changed. The baby is now fit after a corrective surgery in April 2023. When Mahalakshmi spoke at the Rotary event, the baby kept playing with the mike as any normal mischievous 15-month-old does.
Saravanan played a video of members of RC Pasadena applauding with gusto when they heard that RC Madras South had completed 500 surgeries under the project. The Pasadena
club prizes its association with RC Madras South.
Great projects often have rare origins; so did this project. In March 2014, Saravanan, then secretary of RCMS, sustained a severe heart attack. Two stents were fixed, and he gradually recovered, but he wondered how other people, less privileged in society, could cope with such a crisis. He learned about the Chief Minister’s insurance scheme for children with defective hearts. One thing led to another, donors were identified, a global grant materialised (“after Herculean effort”), and the Caring for Little Hearts project became a reality.
The project ran into the Covid hurdle a couple of years ago and a few personnel problems as well. These were surmounted.
“Challenges are inevitable, defeats are optional,” it is said. The Little Hearts project exemplifies this truth.
The writer is a member of RC Madras South, RID 3232