RC Bombay mends little hearts with help from two global grants

Alisfa Sayyad, a beneficiary, with her mother.
Alisfa Sayyad, a beneficiary, with her mother.

With the help of two successful global grants, and a dedicated team manning its paediatric heart surgery project, Rotary Club of Bombay, RID 3141, has been helping to mend the hearts of children and the figure has crossed the 100 mark, with the children operated upon being 103.

“Our club had applied for a GG along with RC Bombay Pier during 2018–19 for $175,285 (about ₹ 1.26 crore). Till now, we have completed 97 surgeries, through the first grant and six more through the second one. We have already disbursed or committed over ₹ 1 crore for this project. During this year alone, we have completed 25 surgeries and expect to complete another 25 surgeries in the coming months and close this grant,” says past president of the club Vijay Jatia.

He said that last year, with many of “our club members generously contributing money to sponsor heart surgeries for children, we applied to TRF with a much bigger GG — $509,653 and have already received an initial amount of $255,780 equivalent to ₹ 1.9 crore The balance amount of ₹ 1.9 crore will be disbursed by them once we utilise the first tranche,” he added.

Sahil could walk but when he started playing or running, he would get breathless and his heartbeat would increase terribly, frightening us.
father of Sahil, a beneficiary.

As the corona pandemic hit India, there was a lull in this programme as “due to the fear of Covid-19 and strict government rules, families were reluctant to attend health camps and admit their children to hospitals. However, now with the relaxations in government norms, this is changing and families are now trusting hospitals to treat their children, taking adequate precautions and observing safety norms,” said Swati Jagodia, a club member involved in this project. Very recently, six heart surgeries on children have been successfully completed and the patients discharged.

Jaymin Jhaveri, chairperson of the paediatric heart surgery committee of RC Bombay, says the club identifies beneficiaries through health camps conducted in villages in partnership with hospitals such as the Kokilaben Dhirubhai Ambani Hospital, SRCC Hospital in Mumbai and the Rotary Haria Hospital, Vapi, Gujarat. These camps are attended by a cardiologist and a couple of doctors and tests are conducted on children brought here for complaints related to heart diseases such as breathlessness, murmurs in the heart, or palpitations.

On the cost of the operation, he says hospitals do offer a special rate for Rotary. Also, different hospitals have different categories and “our commitment is to drastically reduce the financial burden of the parents. Those who can pay five or 10 per cent of the money, do so and we take care of the rest. But the extremely poor who can’t offer to pay anything at all, get their child treated totally free of cost.”

Swapnil Pawar with his child Shivanya.
Swapnil Pawar with his child Shivanya.

On an average a heart surgery, at a special rate, can cost about ₹ 1.5 –1.75 lakh. There are a bunch of government schemes that also offer financial relief for the treatment of the poor classes, and the hospitals help to get money from them for the economically-disadvantaged patients.

I catch up over phone with Chavhan, the father of four year-old Sahil, who was born with a common congenital heart defect known as AVSD (atrioventricular septal defect), loosely defined as a hole in the heart, which results in too much blood flowing or gushing into the lungs and thus overworking one side of the heart. If not treated, the right side of the heart eventually enlarges and weakens. The blood pressure in the lungs can also increase, leading to pulmonary hypertension.

Chavhan is a daily labourer who used to cut sugarcane from the fields in the Yawatmal district of ­Maharashtra. His village is about 750km from ­Mumbai. He and his wife Gita were really distressed at Sahil’s condition. “He could walk but when he started playing or running, he would get breathless and his heartbeat would increase terribly, frightening us.”

As his daily wage hardly fetched him about ₹ 200–300 a day, there was no way he could afford open heart surgery for his child. He also has an older son, who is eight and “studies in an English medium school,” Chavan tells me proudly.

Rotarians with doctors at the Kokilaben Dhirubhai Ambani Hospital, Mumbai. DGN Sandip Agarwalla (second from left), and past president Vijay Jatia (fourth from left) and IPP Preeti Mehta (centre) are also see).
Rotarians with doctors at the Kokilaben Dhirubhai Ambani Hospital, Mumbai. DGN Sandip Agarwalla (second from left), and past president Vijay Jatia (fourth from left) and IPP Preeti Mehta (centre) are also in the picture.

Thanks to help from RC Bombay and their paediatric heart surgery project, Sahil’s heart was repaired through an open heart surgery done in 2019. The child is now well “and has no problems.”

But to understand the kind of people who get help from Rotary let us turn to the reality of Chavhan’s life. He says since the lockdown was announced in March 2020, he has found no work in the sugarcane fields.

But he and his family have been saved from starvation thanks to the common practice in agri families of buying their food grains annually. Chavhan too had bought three quintals of wheat, jowar (millet) and pulses, to last him a year. “So madam, we are managing to fill our bellies with that.”

What about rice?

No, we don’t eat rice, he responds.

And how does he manage to buy subzi (vegetables)?

With a grim laugh, the man comes out with a shocking response: “We have never purchased subzi in our lives. Where is the money to do that?”

And yet his elder son goes, not to a government school (“udhar padhai acchi nahi hei — the education is no good in those schools) but to an English
medium school. The commute to the school is through an auto or a three-wheeler, for which he pays ₹ 500 a month. “Another ₹ 500 goes for his monthly fees. The total cost of his education is ₹ 25,000 a year.”

4-year-old Sahil Chavhan
4-year-old Sahil Chavhan

Gita adds to the family income by the money she gets from stitching clothes. But even those are now reduced, and “she makes ₹ 300–400 in a week,” he adds.

That shows us the great importance that even those in the poorer segments of our communities place on quality education.

Little Shivanya Pawar, another child whose life this project has saved, was born with a defective heart, which her parents discovered a month after her birth, as she “struggled to breathe and was perspiring all the time.” Her father Swapnil Pawar got a VSD (Ventricular Septal Defect) closure done with help from RC Bombay. She was only nine months old. Normally an opening in the wall (septum) dividing the two lower chambers of the heart (ventricles) closes on its own before birth. When it doesn’t, oxygen-rich blood in the left chamber can mix with oxygen-poor blood in the right one, causing complications for the baby.

With Pawar being just a daily wage labourer, he could not afford to get his child treated. His family lives in a village in Sangli district of Maharashtra “and it takes me over eight hours by bus to reach Mumbai,” he says.

Luckily for him, under this paediatric surgery project, his baby was operated upon in Oct 2019 at the ­Kokilaben Ambani Hospital and she was fine for some time.

But when I reach Pawar by phone, I find him worried about his little daughter. He is a migrant worker who has always worked in Andhra Pradesh. The lockdown saw him returning home “as I had no work”. But now he is back at the shop in AP where he works at a monthly wage of ₹ 7,000. He tells me that though after the surgery Shivanya was fine, in the last couple of weeks she has not been keeping well. “We first admitted her to a local hospital near my home and she was given some treatment and was okay. But yesterday, my wife told me that she has once again got fever and a bad cold — earlier too she had got pneumonia — and I am very worried. They are rushing her to the Kokilaben Hospital in Mumbai tomorrow.”

He too plans to take a train to Mumbai, “but I had to get permission to leave. I will take a train tomorrow but it will take me 30 hours to reach Mumbai,” says the distressed man. One has little doubt that the dedicated project team from RC Bombay will extend all possible help to ensure that the child recovers and gets back home.

Meanwhile this mega project continues. “We have also planned a few camps at various places in and around Mumbai to identify more children afflicted with heart disease,” says Jhaveri.

“If anyone wishes to recommend any poor and needy child suffering from a congenital heart disease, she can contact either me or Swati,”
he adds.

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