Today if I can see my daughter smile and be happy I owe it all to Dr S Rajasabapathy. To me and my family, he is God. He gave life to all of us,” says Anuradha, speaking of her 10-year-old daughter Eashwari who had undergone a reconstructive treatment a month ago. The child’s face was burnt and disfigured, her forehead bald and fingers were stuck together when she was brought to the hospital. She had survived a fire accident when she was just 18 months old. “Since then many doctors have treated my child but none could do any better, until a month ago God brought me to this doctor.”
Anuradha is a resident of Dharmapuri, a small town in Tamil Nadu. Eashwari discontinued her schooling after Class 2 as she had to depend on someone for all her chores. She was identified and brought to the Ganga Hospital in Coimbatore by Rotary Club of Coimbatore Metropolis (RCCM), D 3201, of which Dr Rajasabapathy is a member. He is also the Director of the Hospital and the Head of its Plastic Surgery wing. After a series of six surgical procedures, most of the hand and some fingers that were buried in her forearm were liberated. She could now eat and write with her hand. “We have also reduced the bald patch in the scalp for which she is very happy. Eashwari is now confident of going back to school and resuming studies,” says the surgeon.
The club, along with the Project Coordinator Dr Rajasabapathy, has thus provided a second life to 395 such burn survivors through their flagship project — Hope after Fire — being carried out at the Ganga Hospitals since 2012. The project value so far is $408,000. While the patient is charged nothing, the club takes care of the hospital expenses and the consumables, while the hospital contributes by waiving the surgeons’ fees and other professional charges.
“Most of the fire accident survivors wish they were dead rather than alive and face societal rejection and other untold misery. Disfigured and deformed, they battle depression and in the older people, the challenge of earning a livelihood persists,” says the surgeon. But with right treatment such disfigurement can be corrected, he says confidently. But it requires more than just one sitting, and a lot of patience and spirit. He points out that following a series of surgical reconstructions, the patients are able to return in a much better shape, and more importantly, able to use their limbs to do productive work.
The doctor highlights the improvements done on Nancy (23) who after a burn developed severe fixed contracture of both the knees, besides contractures in the elbow and neck. After two years of misery, she was referred to the club by Rotarians of RC Ooty. “It was a huge challenge to straighten the legs as there was circumferential scarring and tightened vessels.” After four and a half months and a series of surgical releases and grafting and a further eight weeks of painful rehabilitation, Nancy today is able to walk independently. “People thought it was a miracle. It cost us ₹4.75 lakh,” he says.
So was the instance of Kavitha who was badly burnt after being set afire by her husband. Her life was saved but face and hands were severely deformed. With multiple procedures, Kavitha now faces the world with confidence. “We taught her tailoring and got her a sewing machine. Today she has a good clientele and is even planning to adopt a child,” says past president Tharun R Shah.
It all started when Dr Rajasabapathy and the then club president Venkatesh were on a return flight from Kolkata where they had gone to receive the Global Service to Humanity Award for the doctor. A discussion to do some meaningful project which will make a social impact led the doctor to suggest that they could embark on performing corrective surgeries for burn deformities. Unaware of the magnitude, Venkatesh agreed and began working on the formalities for the project to take off. “Two patients and their treatment outcome cemented the support of our members and today every member is deeply involved with this noble cause.”
Two musical shows and a matching grant worth $50,000 have helped tide over the initial phase. Now the project has adequate sponsors to take it forward. “We don’t miss any opportunity to ask anyone for funds and we have never returned empty-handed,” says Club President K K Chugh.
“Each patient we have treated has a story to tell. But when we see the transformation and the immense joy the cure gives the patient and the people surrounding him, it is then we realise the power and magic of Rotary,” says Dr Rajasabapathy. Hope after Fire has been shortlisted recently for the British Medical Journal’s South Asia Award and he is hopeful of winning it. “Publicity is good for us. We want to reach out to more people from anywhere around the world,” he says.