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Home > Cover Story > Part 1  

A medical innovation with a marvellous mission
The Sri Sathya Sai Healthcare Project, Tamil Nadu
- Part 1 -

Part 1

On November 22, 1990, when, out of the blue, Bhagavan Baba announced to the world that a Super Specialty Hospital offering sophisticated treatment completely free of charge to all, would be inaugurated the next year, in the very hamlet of Puttaparthi, there were as many sceptics as believers. “What does Sai Baba know about running a tertiary hospital, and that too offering it free?” is what some of the healthcare professionals in the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, New Delhi, are reported to have said.

They had no clue of the power of Pure Love. Many years have rolled by since then, and today another similar medical marvel stands majestically in the city of Bangalore, India. In fact, Jan 19 of this month celebrates this holy edifice’s 8 th anniversary. Now, when Swami visited Chennai in January 2007, somebody said, “Why not a Super Specialty Hospital in this city too?” And yes, Chennai did receive this gift of Love from the Divine, but in a manner that was extraordinary and exciting! How did this happen? Read this riveting story.

Filling Light and Delight into the Destitute

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No one to call as his own, life, for Mr. Govindan, had become a living death
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For Govindan, a 70 year old rag picker, life was not easy, understandably. From dawn till dusk he struggled to eke out a living by scavenging trash cans and garbage heaps, and collecting loads of waste paper which he sold for a measly sum of money; just five or ten rupees, for all the hard and dirty work throughout the day. It was a terrible life, and it probably could not have gotten any worse for anybody. But, sadly, it did, for this unfortunate septuagenarian.

One morning, Govindan discovered that, for some mysterious reason, he was gradually losing his vision day by day. Life had in no time become unbearable, for there was no one whom he could call his own in this world; society barely acknowledged his existence. Earning enough to keep his flesh and bone together now became an impossible task.

There were days when he would just lay down on the street, hungry and weak. Often, his temperature would run high; it was almost as if his body had given up, but his soul was still clinging on. Hardly anybody knew about him; and even if a few had seen him occasionally, they couldn’t care less.

But one day, Mr. Ramamurthy, a member of Sri Sathya Sai Seva Organisation, Korukupet Centre, Chennai, spotted him on the street, helpless and terribly sick. Deeply concerned, he went near him and lovingly enquired about his condition. It was only then that he realised Govindan was almost on the verge of complete blindness; in fact, his failing eyesight was one of the principal reasons for his empty stomach, and the consequent pitiable illness.

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With his eyesight back, and also lots of love, Govindan now is jubilant
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“Once he developed cataract in both his eyes, he could no longer work; he resorted to begging, and that was distressing for him, physically and emotionally,” explains Mr. Ramamurthy, and continues, “I could not bear to see his plight, I immediately brought Govindan under the auspices of the Sri Sathya Sai Healthcare Project.”

And now, Govindan feels young in spirit again; he has not only regained every bit of his vision, but has also found a large and caring family! Every day there is one Sai brother who takes care of his personal needs. Ask Govindan, how does he feel now, and all he says, with moist eyes and a choked voice, is “Baba…Baba…Baba!”

That is what the Sri Sathya Sai Healthcare Project has done, not just to one, but to a hundred such Govindans. Mr. Patchai Pillai, a 65-year old watchman, leading a hand to mouth existence, found the light diminishing from his life when one day he was unable to see even the time on his watch.

Desperate to find a means of livelihood, he had actually migrated two years ago, along with his wife, from Tiruvannamalai (in the state of Kerala) to the city of Chennai. With great difficulty, he had found a job, but now he was desolate; there was no way he could continue to be a watchman without being able to see!

And just like it happened with Govindan, thanks to the Sri Sathya Sai Healthcare Project, his life too has turned a full three-sixty-degrees. “I can see so clearly now…Baba has granted me a new lease of life!” Patchai is ecstatic and overwhelmed with emotion. “I do not know how to express my gratitude to Swami and to so many loving devotees…the only way I can show my gratitude is by sharing this most beautiful episode of my life with as many people as possible, and help those who are in similar need and are not aware of this amazing healthcare service.”

SSSHCP - The Novel Healthcare Innovation

Now, what is this ‘amazing healthcare service’, the Sri Sathya Sai Healthcare Project? Is it a Sai Super Specialty Hospital in Chennai like the ones in Puttaparthi and Whitefield? Well, the answer is both a yes and no. ‘Yes’ because Govindan and Pillai were, in fact, gifted with new lives in Baba’s Super Specialty Hospital in Chennai. And ‘no’ because this Hospital is not like the huge mansions of healing that stand majestically in Puttaparthi and Whitefield. Confused? Well, here is what happened.

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The magnifient marvels of Love which have inspired miracles of love everywhere - The Sri Sathya Sai Institutes of Higher Medical Sciences, Puttaparthi and Whitefield (top)
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Both these patients were treated in a virtual multi-specialty Sai Hospital that functions in Chennai itself. So, are you wondering what this new concept is? And why is it virtual? This is where the story actually gets more interesting, as this novel concept is as simple in its idea, as it is effective in its implementation and powerful in alleviating the suffering of the poor and miserable.

The project has been made possible by the willing offers of scores of sophisticated hospitals of the city of Chennai to offer one bed completely free in their institution all round the year, for that desperate populace of this city who neither has the means, nor the knowledge to seek cures for their chronic maladies in premier hospitals.

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A glimpse of the Sri Sathya Sai Healthcare Project - State-of-the art surgery theatre
staffed by the best to reach out to the most neglected of our society
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The Divine Breathed a Word and the SSSHCP was Born…

Let’s get to the genesis of this innovative and unique initiative. The seed was indeed sown by Bhagavan Baba Himself almost 13 years ago. The occasion was the International Conference on Cardio-Vascular Diseases held in the auditorium of the Sri Sathya Sai University. It was the winter of 1995. Eminent medical practitioners from India and abroad had gathered in Prasanthi Nilayam for this two-day event. It was December 18, the Valedictory session, and Bhagavan had graciously consented to deliver the final message. And on that important occasion, Bhagavan beautifully enunciated the nuances of true holistic care. Addressing the august assembly of physicians, He said,

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'Make love the capsule you offer to your patients' - Bhagavan Baba
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Make love the capsule you offer to your patients. When a weak patient comes to you, do not be content with offering him glucose or some other medicine. Give him the injection of love; that will give him instant strength. Speak to him with love, offer medicines with love, and keep him in good humour. That is the way to make him happy. Happiness is union with God. Anything you do with love will be rewarding…

After this compelling doctrine on love, Baba went on to give practical suggestions, and even went to the extent of appealing to the audience to rethink the true goal of their profession. And then, in a moving gesture, He gently stretched His hand and said,

“You are all estimable persons; broad-minded, gentle and kind hearted. You may receive fees from the rich patients, but treat the poor free. Dedicate at least one day in a week to render free medical service to people, irrespective of creed or nationality. Such service will give you spontaneous joy and enable you to experience the Divine.”

“It was such a touching moment for me,” says Mr. Ramani, the current State President of Sri Sathya Sai Seva Organisation, Tamil Nadu, who was then the State Coordinator, and was present on that occasion. “Swami always gives and gives, but here He was asking for something with an open palm! Though not a doctor, I had decided instantly that we should do something about this at the earliest. There was no way I could rest unless we had taken some step in this direction; it lingered in my mind constantly.”

On the same wavelength of Mr. Ramani, was Dr. M. S. Sundararajan, a plastic surgeon from Chennai. “I was so blessed to be part of that Conference,” he shares. “Even though I am not a cardiac surgeon, I had received an invitation probably because a few months ago I had started to offer my volunteer services at Swami’s General Hospital in Whitefield. We were literally Swami’s guests during that occasion. We were not allowed to even lift our suitcases as soon as we landed in Puttaparthi. Swami took care of us so well and showered so much love…and then, on the final day when He made this touching appeal, my heart transformed into cotton. I knew I had to act immediately.”

As soon as Dr. Sundararajan was back in Chennai, he went to Mr. Ramani with his new idea. The plan was to organise a few free beds in a tertiary hospital in Chennai on a continuous basis. Mr. Ramani welcomed the idea wholeheartedly. For him, it was as if Swami was speaking through this Sai doctor. Soon, they got in touch with Dr. K. Senthilnathan, the Head of Sri Devi Hospital, a pioneering Multi-Speciality Hospital, and the kind medical chief agreed straight away.

“Prasanthi Ward’ – The Pilot SSSHCP

And thus, within a matter a few weeks, the ‘Prashanthi Ward’ came into being with four beds in Sri Devi Hospital in early 1996. The desperate and down-trodden patients identified by the Sai doctors during village medical camps as well as in ‘Sai Krupa’, the permanent free medical consultation programme in ‘Sundaram’ (Baba’s abode in Chennai), were referred to this special ward. Recalling those days, Dr. K. Senthilnathan, says,

“Even though, I did not know much about Sathya Sai Baba then, I just liked the idea of offering free service. Therefore, I immediately extended all support. Given that my hospital is located in Annanagar, one of the plush areas of Chennai city, I never got the opportunity to see the poor, but this was a beautiful opportunity. All my doctors too welcomed this wholeheartedly.”

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Dr. Senthilnathan in front of the Prashanthi Ward
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Four beds in Sridevi Hospital are always free
for the poor since last twelve years
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So, while Sri Devi Hospital offered these beds free of charge, the Sai doctors as well as doctors from Sri Devi Hospitals performed these surgeries as a labour of love, and the Sai volunteers ensured that every other support needed for the success of this endeavour including looking after the travel, expenses, food and other personal needs of the patients were taken care of.

This was, in fact, the miniature virtual Sai Hospital with just four beds and a handful of doctors involved; that is, until Bhagavan made His landmark visit to Chennai, after ten long years, in January 2007. And then, the whole dynamics of this health initiative metamorphosed overnight; it assumed a gigantic proportion. And here is how that happened.

The Divine Descends on Chennai and the City is Overcome with Gratitude

Swami set His holy foot in Chennai on January 19 and two days later, The Chennai Citizens Conclave organised a grand event in the Nehru Indoor Stadium to offer their gratitude to Bhagavan for rescuing them from their century old woe of inadequate and unsafe drinking water. Bhagavan had gifted to them the Sri Sathya Sai Free Drinking Water Project to ensure that no one ever went thirsty again in this bustling city of 8 million – the fourth largest metropolis of India.

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"Unity....." - the message of Bhagavan Baba at The Chennai Citizens' Conclave which was attended by four Chief Ministers, three Union Ministers and two Governors of India on January 21, 2007
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[To read more about this, please go to our previous cover story “The Chennai Citizens Conclave – Divinity Diffuses all Differences".]

The grateful populace was at a loss to convey their gratitude to Bhagavan. Each day of His 12-day stay was taken up by a particular section of society like lawyers, policemen, educationists, etc. coming to offer their collective homage at His lotus Feet. And on January 28, it was the chance of the doctors. 400 eminent physicians from the city of Chennai had gathered on this ‘Doctors Day’, many of whom were actually seeing Bhagavan for the first time.

January 28, 2007 – “Doctors Day” in the Divine Presence

Representing the medical fraternity on that Sunday was Dr. (Prof.) Rangabhashyam. A Former Head of the Department of Surgical Gastroenterology and Clinical Professor of Surgery in the Madras Medical College and Government General Hospital, Prof. Rangabhasyam was elected as the President of the Association of Surgeons of India in 1987.

He was appointed as the Honorary Surgeon to the President of India, by former President of India, Mr. R. Venkataraman, and is a Consultant Surgeon to India’s Armed Forces Medical College. In recognition of his yeoman contribution to the country, the Government of India decorated him with the premier civilian award Padma Bhushan in 2002. The Professor has also been awarded the Honorary Fellowship of the Royal College of Physicians, UK.

Bhagavan was all smiles when the eminent physician bent down and offered a rose. He accepted it lovingly, exchanged a few words caringly, and then asked him to take the dais. It was then that the Sri Sathya Sai Healthcare Project, in the huge magnitude that we see today, was unveiled to the world.

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Dr. (Prof.) Rangabhashyam offering his
token of love before taking the dais
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Bountiful blessings and the gift of Vibhuti even before the doctor announced about the new virtual hospital
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SSSHCP Receives Sai Permission and Benediction

In fact, on that afternoon, as soon as Bhagavan alighted from His car, Dr. Ram Manohar Rao, who is now the chief coordinator of this programme, offered to Bhagavan the project proposal, and Swami happily accepted the document, placed His hand on the folder and said, Chaala Santosham (very happy); His blessings were obvious and copious.

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Bhagavan is keen about the SSSHCP proposal presented by Dr. Ram Manohar Rao
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His blessings for this virtual hospital were unceasing - Dr. Rangabhasyam and Dr. Rao with Swami
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In his spirited speech, Prof. Rangabhashyam submitted to Bhagavan the collective prayer of the physicians of Chennai. He said,

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'Swami, by Your Grace, we will make this project a success' - Dr. Rangabhashyam
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“Swami, although it is late, we would like to be a part of Your grand healthcare mission, the torchbearers of which are the magnificent Super Specialty Hospitals in Puttaparthi and Whitefield. Presently, sixty three medical institutions, which comprises hospitals and imaging and diagnostic centres, have come forward to treat and conduct investigations totally free of cost.

"All these hospitals have offered to provide one bed completely free in the areas of their specialty, be it cardiology, neurology, nephrology, ENT, ophthalmology or any other discipline. The diagnostic services too like MRI, CT, angiogram, blood tests including blood transfusion, etc. will be done at no cost to the patient.

“Swami, we would not request you to build another Super Speciality Hospital in Chennai. On the other hand, we will multiply the number of hospitals involved in this noble endeavour to 200 in a short span of time. Starting with Chennai, we will slowly embrace the entire state of Tamil Nadu, and later, even India, and offer thousands of poor patients much-needed medical attention free of charge, with love.

“As a past president of the Associations of Surgeons of India and the Head of the Committee on Gastroenterology in the Medical Council of India, I assure you that I will make this project a success, by Your grace. Swami, we have no doubts about how this project will be implemented.

"The Sai youth of Tamil Nadu, who have been conducting medical camps in the rural areas, will identify the hapless patients needing further treatment. These selected poor folk will then be routed to the hospitals enrolled in the Sri Sathya Sai Healthcare Project through the medical wing of the Sri Sathya Sai Seva Organisation of Tamil Nadu.

“Swami, we, the doctors and the public of Chennai, are truly fortunate and blessed by Your presence. Our motto is to love our patients, and love till it hurts, till nothing else exists.”

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Bhagavan gifts the first medical kit to the distinguished doctor to formally launch this project
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The Lord is very pleased with the doctor and his determination to do sacred work
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After this magnificent declaration by Prof. Rangabhashyam, Swami Himself symbolically unfurled this virtual hospital programme, christened as the “Sri Sathya Sai Healthcare Project (SSSHCP)”, by gifting a medical kit, first to this distinguished doctor, and then to the representatives of all the medical institutions who had volunteered to be a part of this holy medical adventure.

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All the medical kits were blessed by the Lord before being distributed to the participating professionals
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Sixty three medical institutions were enrolled
on the first day of this novel initiative
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Now, how did these 63 institutions get involved in a matter of 3-4 days? Did it involve a lot of talking and persuasion?

The Team Manifests to Realise this Dream

“Well, we approached doctors, who owned hospitals or diagnostic centres, and, you will not believe, every single doctor we went to, immediately agreed to be a part of this divine project. In fact, Dr. Subramaniam of V. S. Hospital came forward to offer 4 such beds! It was as though they were all waiting to be approached,” confides Dr. E. Prabhu, a committee member of the SSSHCP.

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We now have a free super speciality hospital with no expenditures of any kind, says Dr. E. Prabhu
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Dr. Ram Manohar Rao adds, “I must confess, initially I was unsure how many medical institutions would extend their support for this project - but we were pleasantly surprised. Many wished to join us such as Dr. Emmanuel, the Director of Bharat Scans, a Christian institution, who personally approached us."

"We always kept Swami uppermost in our thoughts, and that, I think, is what ensured that we faced no major glitches when the project actually took off.”

“And thanks to Swami, we now have a Super Specialty Hospital in Chennai, just like in Puttaparthi or Whitefield, but with no expenditures for maintenance, investment, manpower or infrastructure.” Dr. Prabhu signs off with a broad smile.

This January, it is two years, since this magnified version of the tiny “Prasanthi Ward” launched on its mission of suffering-alleviation. Till date, it has transformed the lives of nearly 500 poor patients directly, while the indirect beneficiaries have been thousands.

Be it the doctors who have operated upon these patients, or the family members of the ailing ones, or even the Sevadal volunteers who have cared for these unfortunate ones during the dreary days of their convalescence – every one has a story to tell, of hope, of love, of joy and smiles. Ashwin’s story is one such.

When Prayers Are Answered – Ashwin Finally Wins!

“I had perennially suffered from acute ear infection,” shares the fifteen year old, Ashwin Prabhu. “The unbearable pain had made my life miserable. With great difficulty I went through my daily life, be it sleeping, eating, playing, listening or any activity for that matter. But what hurt me the most was that it became virtually impossible for me to be able to concentrate on my studies, be it in the classroom or at home. The lingering pain sapped all my energy and enthusiasm.”

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Ashwin with his mother - his ear pain is gone like a bad dream and life begins anew and bright
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Given that he was in the IXth class, when every student in India has a difficult examination at the end of the year, his trauma was heart rending. But what was sadder was the ordeal that his parents were going through. “My husband works as a contract worker (porter),” says Ashwin’s mother. “His earnings are meagre. We could not bear to see our dear one, our only child, writhe in pain, but what could we do? Leave alone getting the operation done, we were struggling even to pay for his medicines. We could only pray, day and night, for a miracle to materialise.”

One could not miss the tremble in her voice, as she re-lived those dreadful days. Unable to endure their son’s suffering, the couple finally decided to borrow money. With huge difficulty they gathered a sum of Rs. 30,000 (USD 625 approx.), but even that was not enough.

That was when Ashwin’s father requested his employer for monetary assistance. It was at this time that destiny, finally, started to smile at them. His employer happened to be a Sai devotee, who knew about SSSHCP. And so, soon, the cyst was removed from Ashwin’s ear. “I am a Bal Vikas student, but until this happened I never realised the magnitude of God’s omniscience,” says Ashwin who too prayed to God desperately to come to his rescue.

His mother is now eternally grateful to Swami. “All I wish for my son is He should stay in His umbrella of grace forever. The entire operation was done free of cost! How can I ever thank Him?”

“But for Swami, I would have been an orphan” - Johnson

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"But for Bhagavan's love, I would have been
an orphan" - Johnson
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Another teenager, twenty-two year old Johnson too had a similar pathetic malady – constant ear pain since 2003. “Every doctor I visited gave me a different opinion about the cause of the pain. Some gave me medicines too.

"But, each time the pain would come back with greater vigor and intensity,” he says recollecting his dreadful days. He too finally found support, solace and cure in SSSHCP, but how that happened is interesting.

When Johnson had almost given up hope, the person who introduced him to the Sri Sathya Sai Seva Organisation was actually the pastor of a church. But once this happened, the Sai doctors took over.

After conducting a series of examinations and consultations, Johnson was finally operated for a mastoid bone infection completely freely by Dr. Mohan Kameswaran at the Madras ENT Research Foundation.

“I am now free of the pain that had haunted me for years.” An emotional Johnson continues, “ My father left us when I was very young. My mother too followed him after a few years. But for Bhagavan’s love, I would have been an orphan. I can only thank Swami for choosing me. I will never forget till my last breath what Baba has done for me.”

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Dr. Mohan Kameswaran at the Madras ENT Research Foundation - SSSHCP in action
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Scalable Multi-specialty Service Activity - SSSHCP’s Strength

Healing hearts and rebuilding lives is what the Sri Sathya Sai Healthcare Project has accomplished since Swami’s visit to Chennai in Jan 2007. This virtual hospital is virtual only in the sense that it does not have a separate concrete edifice, otherwise it is a life-creating and life-sustaining holy enterprise. What is also significant is that being a virtual hospital, it has the advantage of being a comprehensively diversified multi-specialty project. While Govindan and Pillai needed ophthalmic surgeries, Ashwin and Johnson had ENT operations done. Now, here is the story of Mrs. Reji, who needed an abdominal surgery.

Touched By the Divine Wand

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Mrs. Reji, now relieved from a prolonged abdominal illness, wants to share His Love
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Hailing from a small town called Neyveli in Tamil Nadu, Mrs. Reji could not stop her tears as she recalled how her prolonged abdominal illness was finally alleviated.

“Even after taking medication for three months, there was no relief to my abdominal pain. Being a housewife, it was extremely difficult for me to take care of my family and do the daily chores.

"The local doctor I visited first told me that my intestines were intertwined and blistered. He gave me a few medicines, but said that this could not be treated by just pills. That is when I realised it was something more serious.”

“All I wish to do is pass on the love I have received” - Mrs. Reji

Reji’s problem was Rectal Prolapse, wherein the walls of the rectum rupture and cause severe discomfort. Belonging to a lower middle-class family, the tension in their home had assumed mammoth proportion.

Just when her husband was trying desperately to gather the requisite sum, her uncle, who is a Sai devotee, asked her to see Dr. Prabhu. Soon, many things fell in place, and in early 2008, Reji was operated upon by Dr. Chandra Mohan at Royapettah General Hospital.

Recalling this final and happy chapter of her illness, Reji says, “Everything happened like a dream. I did not spend a single paisa. Bhagavan knew I could not have afforded it all by myself.” Was she nervous when she was wheeled into the theatre? “I remember praying the day before my operation. I asked Bhagavan to never leave my side. And as always, He kept His promise. I have no words to express what I feel now. All I wish to do is pass on the love I have received, to everyone, in whatever way I can.”

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Dr. P. Saraswathy - one of the many inspired professionals who are part of SSSHCP
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Dr. Anil Kumar regularly offers his time and energy to help the poor and downtrodden
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SSSHCP - A Powerful Healthcare Model of Innovation, Suffering-alleviation and Transformation

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The Heart and Soul of Sri Sathya Sai Healthcare Project
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More than the mitigation of physical suffering, what is more touching is the broadening of peoples’ hearts and expansion of their souls.

And this is the case not with the patients alone, but with everyone who has been closely involved in this spiritual social service, be it the doctors and surgeons, the hospital staff and paramedics, or the sevadals and devotees of the Sri Sathya Sai Seva Organisation, Tamil Nadu. You will find plenty of their heartfelt feelings in the second part of this cover story.

Meanwhile, as the juggernaut of the Sri Sathya Sai Healthcare Project rolls on, more hospitals have entered its sacred orbit. The latest count is 90 which includes 10 hospitals outside the city of Chennai, five each being from Erode and Coimbatore.

“Soon, this project is going to snowball greatly across the state of Tamil Nadu,” says Dr. Ram Manohar Rao, the Chief Medical Coordinator of this programme. “We are waiting for the Sri Sathya Sai Village Integration Programme to gain momentum.

Once that happens, we will expand our network of doctors and hospitals, and more importantly, offer this service to the neediest, especially to those who are below the poverty line and worse.

And I know this will happen, because it is not we who are doing this; it is He, every bit of it!” Well, with such an egoless attitude, any altitude is no altitude, because the power behind is mightier than the mountains ahead!

 

End of Part 1

Part 1

Dear reader, how did you like this story? Did it inspire you in any way? Would you like more such stories focussed on Bhagavan Baba's medical mission? Please write to us at [email protected] with your name and country. We look forward to your feedback, comments and suggestions to help us serve you better. Thank you very much for your time.

- Heart2Heart Team


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Vol 7 Issue 01 - JANUARY 2009
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