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Indian Express
26 July 2010
Pritha Chatterjee
Mumbai, India

Rawal,Sampat made the pledge recentlyRawal,Sampat made the pledge recently
Couple hope their gesture will motivate others to help save lives of burns victims AS AN actor, Paresh Rawal, with his vast repertoire, is a role model for many. Now he and his wife Swaroop Sampat are hoping to set an example in the real world, by taking the rare pledge of donating their skin.

Rawal and Sampat, a former actor, have been closely associated with the National Burns Institute’s skin bank in Mumbai since it was set up a year ago. Brand ambassadors of the bank, they signed up to donate their skin a few months ago.

"Ever since I got to know how easily skin donation can save the lives of serious burns patients, I have felt strongly about the issue. Since I was already associated with the skin bank, this was the natural progression," says Rawal.

Skin grafting – the process of laying a donor’s skin on a burns patient – has been shown to work wonders in the gravest of injuries.

Probe a bit further, and Rawal admits his cause has a personal angle. Rawal saw "a close friend" suffer from a severe burns injury. "It was a harrowing experience. The person had 60 per cent burns.

Trust me, it’s excruciating to watch people suffer like that," he trails off.

 Rawal, Sampat Address A `Burning Need', Pledge To Donate Skin Express Archive
Sampat, a former theatre, TV and film actor who now holds a Ph.D in Higher Education, believes if persons like Rawal step forward, they can help remove a big hurdle in the way of a medical wonder. "People are simply not aware that they can donate their skins and save millions of lives. There are thousands of Indians pledging their organs.

I’m sure we will see a lot more volunteers if this message is carried to the masses by those they love," she says.

Mumbai is home to the only two skin banks in the country, one of them being the National Burns Institute’s.

Dr Madhuri Gore, head of the skin bank at LTMG Hospital in central Mumbai, says that in 10 years, they had been able to graft about 150 patients with more than 50 per cent burns in their bank. "Of them, we lost only seven. This number would have been much higher without our skin bank," Dr Gore says.

But the statistics also speak of the extent of ignorance on skin donation. "In one year, we have only managed 15 donations. To sustain a bank, we need at least 300," points out Dr Shilpa Karnik, consultant at the National Burns Institute.

Still, the numbers are improving. Since 2007, LTMG Hospital, has been receiving about 70 donations a year. In its first six years, it had only managed 56.

"This lack of awareness pains me," says Rawal.

"Imagine if this is the situation in Mumbai, where the banks are actually located, how badly would the rest of the country fare?" Sampat, incidentally a former Miss India, feels people are turned off by the idea of skin donation as they "imagine the process to be very gory".

Rawal finds that sad. "The procedure is so much simpler than any other donation, and it is truly a burning need right now," he says.

Apart from hoping to change mindsets "in my own small way", Rawal is also planning to make a series of documentary films, in partnership with the National Burns Institute, to explain the process of skin donation and its manifold benefits. The shooting will begin by September.

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