13 May 2010
By Nirmala M Nagaraj
Life has come full circle for 29–year–old Reena Raju, the first woman in Karnataka who’s been living with someone else’s heart. This cheerful woman from Bangalore underwent a cadaver heart transplant six months ago. At 25 years, she was diagnosed to be suffering from dilated cardiomyopathy, a condition in which the weak heart is enlarged and cannot pump blood efficiently. Without losing hope, Reena fought back.
She was a graduate of Mount Carmel College and working for an MNC, and life was good until February 2006 when a cold and cough was the first warning. It took over a month for doctors to zero in on the ailment. “I’d feel breathless and complain of fatigue. Initially, all the doctors said it was a gastric problem. I worked in shifts and this was assumed to be the cause.”
Dr Venkatesh of Republic Nursing Home suggested a chest X–ray and that revealed the real problem. “My heart was enlarged, the valves were leaking and I was rushed to the ICU at Jain Hospital. Within two days, I’d lost 8 kgs.”
From then on, Narayana Hrudayalaya became Reena’s second home, as she was rushed there every fortnight. After battling bravely for four years, her condition worsened in 2009. When valve replacement was ruled out, the only option was heart transplant. Reena registered with the Zonal Coordination Committee of Karnataka (ZCCK) for cadaver organ transplantation, but there was a long waiting list.
Her friends as well as fiance Raj Narayan Dash looked up medical journals, portals and trends. They heard about Chennai–based Dr K M Cherian and his hospital Frontier Lifeline (FL) and registered with his heart foundation.
Within a month, Reena received a call for a transplant. Rather terrified, Reena refused to undergo the surgery. But she realized that an opportunity had been lost, and on getting the second call, she was ready. “Getting a right donor, fighting infection and body accepting the new organ is a real challenge,” says Reena. Raj recalls, “We got a call late one evening from Dr Cherian’s hospital and asked to reach there within a few hours. It was raining heavily and the traffic was bad. I jumped two traffic signals to reach the airport.”
On reaching the hospital, the staff rushed her into the ICU. Seeing her walk out of the ICU was nothing less than a miracle for her twin sister Roopa as well as Raj.
Within 15 days after the surgery, Reena was back in Bangalore with a new heart. Soon, it’ll be six months that the heart has been pumping new life into her. Arranging money for the surgery was not easy. “I was informed the operation would cost Rs 10 lakh. We went to the hospital with just Rs 1.5 lakh. My friends and well–wishers contributed from as small a sum as Rs 1000. Xavier Nilaya Church Choir raised funds and the Have A Heart foundation gave more Rs 1 lakh for the surgery. Even today, the same organization provides my regular medicine at concessional cost. As the donor’s identity is not revealed, Reena knows her only as an angel and gives thanks for the selfless act. She met Raj when she learnt to play the piano during the trauma and hopes to get married soon.” Today, all her friends on a social networking site know about her heart transplant. Some have even pledged their organ and her twin sister has already registered.
Her condition was such she may not have survived for more than six months. Within a week of discharging her from the hospital, she would get readmitted. Now that she has successfully undergone a heart transplantation, she can live to realize her dreams. There are many patients similar to Reena and there is a long waiting list. We have miles to go before we make cadaver trans plant a viable alternative.
We have done over 23 heart and lung transplants in our hospital and 50% of the patients like Reena are in their twenties. The youngest recipient was a 2–year–old boy from Gujarat and the donor was a 3–year–old baby from Karnataka. If the heart is not used for transplantation, it’s cryo–preserved and used for treating valvular heart disease.