Times of India
09 February 2009
By Malathy Iyer
Despite his nine years, Vishnu Kokare weighed less than a five–year–old. The son of a gardener living in Walkeshwar, Vishnu had tetralogy of fallot, a complex heart defect that his parents discovered when he was two years old. But the cost of a paediatric heart surgery–ranging from Rs 1 lakh in public hospitals to up to Rs 5 lakh in private hospitals–had been worrisome.
When Vishnu started fainting in school, the Kokares were at their wits’ end. Then, they heard about a UK–based team of paediatric heart specialists who were coming down to the Asian Heart Institute in the Bandra–Kurla Complex to perform complex surgeries at subsidised costs. “Thankfully, we were selected in the first batch itself and Vishnu was operated upon last week. He is already talking and eating,” said his mother Sangeeta.
The UK team operated on six other children last week. “Half of the cost of the surgery is written off by the hospital and another 25% will be raised from various donors. Paediatric heart disease is a neglected field and we want to do our bit for them,” said Dr Ramakanta Panda, vice–president of the institute.
Vishnu’s case is a good example. According to Dr Nelson Alphonso from the Royal Liverpool Children’s Hospital who operated on Vishnu, “Cases of tetralogy of fallot are best operated on between three and 12 months of age. It is shocking that Vishnu wasn’t operated on so far.”
The UK team, organised by Dr Sanjeev Nichani from University Hospital of Leicester, wanted to “give something back to India”. “The western region of India has barely four or five paediatric heart units to cater to a patient pool that runs into lakhs. So we thought of doing our bit here,” said Dr Nichani. The team also plans to set up an NGO, Healing Little Hearts, to fund regular heart operations in India. “We have already tied up with the Asian Heart Institute for 2009, with our teams coming down once every four months,” said Dr Abdul Rasheed, the cardiologist who operated on four children.
The joint effort of the institute and the UK team has made Borivli ‘laundry–wallah’ Rajesh Kanojia happy. His twoyear–old son, Mahesh, was recently diagnosed with a hole in his heart, but given his meagre income, a cure seemed impossible. “Residents of the houses where I provide ironing services also pitched in, helping me collect Rs 30,000,” he says. But he is not sure how he would raise more money if required. (However, hospital authorities indicated they would help him with the rest of the bill as well).
The camp has also been a boon for Mukesh Reddy, whose 21–day–old boy was diagnosed with severe pulmonary restonsis at birth and even had meningitis. “His operation was performed using a minimally invasive method and he is doing well,” said a doctor. His uncle Sanjay has been waiting to take him home. “His mother has not held him yet,” Sanjay said.