Breathing life into blue babies

TRF Trustee Sushil Gupta, DG Vivek Kumar and PRID Ashok Mahajan, along with the CHD patients at the screening camp in Patna. Also seen: PDG L B Singh (far left). Project Chair Sushil Poddar and Project Convener Anant Arora (right).
TRF Trustee Sushil Gupta, DG Vivek Kumar and PRID Ashok Mahajan, along with the CHD patients, at the screening camp in Patna. Also seen: PDG L B Singh (far left), Project Chair Sushil Poddar (fifth from right) and Project Convener Anant Arora (right).

Shweta Kumari (11) is sad that she is unable to participate in the fun activities with her classmates. “I want to play and dance like my friends,” she bursts out in ­Bhojpuri. But the moment she exerts herself, she gasps for breath and her face turns bluish-black, says her mother Sushma Devi. Shweta was born with a congenital heart condition that places restrictions on her everyday activities, and palpitation, convulsion and dizziness mark her day. “We realised that she had a heart problem when we met a cardiologist at Ranchi but didn’t have the means to take it further,” says Sushma Devi, as they await their turn to meet the doctor at the Mahavir Vaatsalya hospital in Patna.

Meanwhile, inside the chamber, two doctors examine six-month-old Raj Nandini, who doesn’t look her age. She is so tiny and fragile that she could fit into a palm and her cry is feeble as the doctor takes her ECG. Dr Niranjan Dutta writes, “High risk”, in his records as he patiently tells the mother that the child has to undergo surgery at the earliest.

The hole in their tiny hearts is a huge trauma; let it not dig a hole in your pocket too.
TRF Trustee Sushil Gupta

These children were part of the final screening camp organised by District 3250 at the hospital, in association with Rotary’s Gift of Life (GoL) programme. Paediatric cardiologists, Radhakrishnan and Niranjan Dutta, from Fortis-Escorts Hospital, Delhi, were examining child/teenage patients suffering from congenital heart ­disorders (CHD). The ­corrective surgery will be performed later at the hospital.

For over a month, the district has been organising initial CHD detection camps for the underprivileged villagers of Bihar and Jharkhand where paediatric cardiologists identified over 300 children with various forms of heart disorder.

“This is the first time the district is conducting such a massive CHD screening camp. All 92 clubs have come together to give new life to these children,” said DG Vivek Kumar.

The children, along with their parents, were brought to Patna for the final screening. “We identify children for surgery based on their ECG reports and general health conditions,” said
Dr Dutta. Surgery was not recommended for children above 15 years. By the end of the day, 187 children were shortlisted for surgery.

 

The genesis

It all started during the installation of the District Governor, when S P Bagaria, GoL’s State Coordinator for Bihar and Jharkhand and member of RC Giridih, requested DG Vivek to conduct a camp to treat children with CHD. He readily agreed.

“You just have to bring them to Delhi. The moment they set foot on our soil, they are our responsibility. GoL will take care of their boarding, lodging and hospital expenses. Do not charge anything from the patients,” said TRF Trustee Sushil Gupta to the Rotarians managing the camp.

Parents waiting with their children for consultation at the CHD screening camp in Patna.
Parents waiting with their children for consultation at the CHD screening camp in Patna.

He and PRID Ashok Mahajan interacted with the doctors and patients’ families. “You do not have to spend money for your child’s treatment, we’ll take care of it. As such, the hole in their tiny hearts is a huge trauma; let it not dig a hole in your pocket too,” he assured the parents.

The clubs had organised transport for people from various localities across the two States. About 100 Rotaractors from 13 clubs also pitched in enthusiastically with back-end support. “It was a wonderful, yet sobering experience. It made us realise the value of life and how blessed we are,” said DRR ­Vaibhav Thakur.

The Rotaractors have been promoting the programme on social media and spreading the message to villagers in semi-urban and rural areas through posters and handbills. “Nearly 4,000 news items on the topic have been published. We want a maximum number of people to benefit from this camp,” said Sushil Poddar, the Project Chair. Trustee Gupta added that this will help in promoting Rotary’s public image.

PRID Mahajan recalled the days when polio was widespread in Bihar, and acknowledged the efforts of Rotarians such as PDG L B Singh and Syed Shamael Ahmad for providing a breakthrough for the Muslim population resisting the vaccine. “The situation was such that only if UP and Bihar became polio-free, India would be polio-free. Connecting with the Ulemas helped achieve this in a big way,” he said.

He commended the district for giving children the zindagi ka tofa, saying, “when we have accepted Service above Self as our motto, why should we play in the shallow waters? Let us take such magnificent projects and gift a longer life to such children. Resources will fall in place when you take the first step forward.”

Kishore Kunal, Secretary of the Mahavirsthan Trust that runs this hospital, said, “We’ll also perform free heart surgeries here as soon as our new OT is ready. Presently, we’ll examine children and send them to hospitals that you suggest. We’ll bear the expenses,” he said. The trust operates five hospitals for various specialties and is supported with revenue generated through sale of Tirupati laddus specially made at their Hanuman Mandir.

“All the 187 children will be treated within a year. We’ll get things organised for them,” assured DG Vivek, referring to the entire exercise as “manav kalyan ka maha yagna.

Rotarians from Delhi clubs (D 3011 and 3012) were also present. Rotary clubs of D 3250 donated milk powder for the neonates in the hospital and wheelchairs for the cancer hospital.

Gift of Life

A C Peter (right), National Coordinator, Gift of Life, with the Ugandan children and their parents at the Amrita Hospital, Kochi.
A C Peter (right), National Coordinator, Gift of Life, with the Ugandan children and their parents at the Amrita Hospital, Kochi.

Gift of Life, a Rotary International programme, began in India in 2002, to facilitate heart surgeries for children from BPL families suffering from congenital heart ailments. “It is Rotary’s peace project of love with a human touch, functioning beyond caste, religion or even borders,” said its National Coordinator A C Peter. GoL arranges open heart surgeries for 120 children every year. So far, 25 matching/global grants of $1.5 million, in addition to contributions from donors, have been spent for the programme.

The scar in the chest of these children is testimony to our good work, and the thought that we were able to save so many lives keep us going.
A C Peter, National Coordinator, GoL

“Even as I am talking here, ­seven-year-old Aryan Sheriff of Lahore, ­Pakistan, is undergoing surgery in Fortis Delhi now. He was referred to us by the External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj,” Peter added. Ten children from Uganda have just flown back after successful treatment at Amrita Hospital in Kochi, Kerala. They were also treated for other ­ailments such as hernia in one child and restoring the eyesight in another.

TRF Trustee Sushil Gupta recounted a dialogue with Rtn D N Sharma of RC Udhampur who called him in 2005 to provide an update on a cardiac screening camp in Jammu. “Sharma said, ‘20 children were detected with CHD. Our camp is over’. I wondered if the project is over or has it just begun. And we brought the children to Delhi for treatment. That was the real start of GoL,” said Trustee Gupta.

GoL has coordinators all over India and surgeries to treat CHD are conducted in hospitals everywhere. While a surgery costs around
Rs 3–4 lakh, Rotary is charged only
Rs 70,000 to 75,000. GoL takes care of all expenses — medical, food and stay — for the patients and the caregivers and visa formalities too for international beneficiaries.

Two years ago, 28 children from Zambia and 22 from Uganda were treated in Delhi hospitals. On August 6, 340 children were screened for CHD in Srinagar, and 87 of them were referred to Delhi hospitals for immediate corrective surgery, said Renuka Choudhury, President of RC Delhi East End.

“The scar in the chest of these children is testimony to our good work, and the thought that we were able to save so many lives keep us going,” said Peter.

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RI Director Bharat Pandya is Treasurer for Rotary International for 2020-21, when Holgar Knaack will be RI President, JohritaSolari will be the Vice President and Stephanie Urchick, the Executive Committee Chair.