A Rotary club helps mend hearts in rural Chhattisgarh

In 1999, four young and idealist doctors from AIIMS, Delhi, came to Bilaspur to establish a rural centre for medical care in the Achanakmar forest area, located around 30 km from Bilaspur in Chhattisgarh, which has many tribal villages. They found some land, leased it and built a hospital in the village Ganiyari, located midway between Bilaspur and Achanakmar, establishing an NGO called Jan Swasthya Sahayog (JSS). Its primary objective was to provide quality healthcare at a very affordable price in a region bereft of decent medical facilities for the underprivileged. The head of the group Dr Raman Kataria, is a paediatric cardiac surgeon.

From L: Dr Raman Kataria, Sharad Saxena, Dr Devendra Singh and Sushmeet with project beneficiaries.
From L: Dr Raman Kataria, Sharad Saxena, Dr Devendra Singh and Sushmeet with project beneficiaries.

The JSS has been doing “yeoman service in catering to the social and healthcare needs of this deprived population in a region which has many healthcare challenges,” says Dr Devendra Singh, past president of the Rotary Club of Bilaspur Midtown, RID 3261. He is a senior consultant gastroenterologist at the Apollo Hospitals. He says that the JSS runs regular outpatient clinics and provides inpatient services by charging a very nominal fee — only ₹10 for an out patient and a highly subsidised rate for inpatient care. “While they are able to offer primary and secondary-level healthcare by generating their own resources, the doctors found it very frustrating when the patients needed tertiary healthcare.”

This was compounded when they saw large numbers of children coming with rheumatic heart disease (RHD) at their Saturday cardiac clinic. Dr Singh explains that RHD is caused by an infection that first affects the throat, and is “a crippling cardiac condition which selectively targets cardiac valves causing progressive damage, leading to congestive heart failure and premature death. While many of the affected patients can be managed adequately by supportive treatment, Dr Kataria found that a good number had advanced cardiac disease which required urgent cardiac surgery,” says Dr Singh.


Valve replacement

Such patients require either a single or double valve replacement, and the cardiac surgery was far too expensive to be affordable to the parents, “most of whom are either marginal farmers or daily wage earners and practically everyone is below poverty line.”

When the JSS chief, Dr Kataria, discussed this dilemma with Dr Singh, the latter reached out to some Indian doctors in the US and the possibility of a TRF grant was explored. Persistent efforts saw the materialisation of a matching grant project worth $45,000 from 2013 to 2016. This was jointly implemented by RC Trans Arpa Bilaspur (since then shut down) and RC Orlando Evening, RID 6980, US. The former president of the international partner club, Dr Karuna Sabharwal “was highly supportive in facilitating the entire process. With this money, we did 19 cardiac surgeries on underprivileged RHD patients of the area,” he says.

But then this was not enough, and the need for such surgeries was much more in the region and the JSS wasn’t able to help many needy patients with advanced cardiac problems. “So once the matching grant was done, I got in touch with the same group of dynamic Rotarians — Karuna Sabharwal, who is the RI Foundation Chair of RC of Lake Buena Vista, Florida, in early 2017 and Dr Satish Goel, an eminent cardiologist of Indian origin based in Jacksonville, Florida. They were highly supportive during the application process, and our work fructified in another global grant.” The host club was RC of Bilaspur Midtown and the international sponsor was RC Lake Buena Vista, Florida, RID 6980, US. This time it’s a $72,000 grant and “we planned to do 50 cardiac surgeries with this grant money. Of this, 37 cardiac surgeries have been done,” said Dr Singh.

From left: Sandeep Poddar, Dr Devendra Singh, Dr Raman Kataria and Sharad Saxena with the two young beneficiaries, Prahlad and Gauri.
From left: Sandeep Poddar, Dr Devendra Singh, Dr Raman Kataria and Sharad Saxena with the two young beneficiaries, Prahlad and Gauri.

The patients are picked up from weekly cardiac clinic of JSS headed by its physician Dr Y S Parihar and his team. They are further interviewed and a repeat echo cardiography is done by Dr Satish Goel through skype, from his Jacksonville office. After final selection and counselling, the patients are transported to Sankalp Hospital in Raipur, accompanied by JSS volunteers. There the operations are done at a subsidised rate of less than ₹1 lakh by Dr Nishant Chandel, a renowned cardiac surgeon in the region.

One of the beneficiaries (in the picture) is 16-year-old Gauri, who had to drop out of school because of palpitations and shortness of breath. “After surgery was done, she is fine and now, after a gap of four years, she will soon be rejoining school,” said Dr Singh.

Prahlad, 17, (in the picture) the son of a daily wage earner, was picked up from an outreach clinic run by JSS deep in the forest region. He had advanced RHD and required double valve replacement, but due to abject poverty could not get the surgery done. “After counselling and assurance by our team that everything will be taken care by Rotary and JSS, the family agreed to the operation and now he is back to normal life. Sadly, however his father died two weeks back from an illness,” said Dr Singh.


Two TRF grants

“We will complete this project in the next six months. Through these two grants, Rotary has truly brought smiles back on the faces of patients and given them a new lease of life. Moreover, as bioprosthetic valves are used on these patients, they do not require follow up anticoagulation therapy. They are regularly being followed up in JSS clinics and all are doing well and are back to normal life,” added Dr Singh.

On the importance of a TRF grant, Dr Singh said, “When Dr Kataria contacted me and I got in touch with some common friends in the US, they were willing to help, but only through a credible agency. That is where Rotary came into the picture. Our partners are very happy. Last fortnight they requested us to sponsor a global grant for an American project on human trafficking where they will educate American children on the dangers of human trafficking. It is a multi-district project for which we are the sponsor club and will do the auditing of their work!”

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