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Posted on: July 16, 2013
In the recent times, with the mushrooming of revenue-making multi-specialty hospitals in various cities and metros in India, medical tourism has become a buzzword in the corridors of the Indian Government's Ministry of Health. Why? Well, it promises anywhere between 50-100 billion rupees of additional revenue by 2015.
A few months ago, the Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Medical Sciences, Whitefield, Bengaluru, witnessed a medical tourism of a completely different kind! A seven-year-old boy had come all the way from Pakistan, traveling for six continuous days, to find a cure for his heart ailment. But he did not come alone. There was another 14-year-old girl too. Both of them, battered by poor cardiac conditions from childhood had after a lot of struggle finally found their way into Baba's hospital in June 2012. Here is their inspiring story of trauma and triumph, hopelessness and happiness.
|The little Sail with his uncle Mubarak Ali in Baba's hospital in Bengaluru|
“My name is Shayada and I come from Sukkur, Pakistan,” said the middle-aged woman dressed in a light yellow salwar kameez. Clinging to her was the little one, about 6-7 years old in the loose-fitting blue dress that all cardiac inpatients in Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Medical Sciences (SSSIHMS-WF) wear.
“He is Sail, born seven years ago,” she said, her arm tightly around her son. “I have seven children; he is the last one. All other children except him are healthy. Since the time he was born, he has always been unwell with fever and cough. For this reason, I could not even place him in a school. In fact I never encouraged him to even go out of the house because of his frail condition; my eyes were always on him,” the mother confided.
“When I got him examined in a local hospital in Pakistan, he was diagnosed with tuberculosis. We started treatment immediately. Three months later, he seemed to be getting better.”
The Predicament Aggravates
This was good news but then something else rocked the family. “Unfortunately, during this time, I was diagnosed with cholera, and so I could not look after him,” Shayada continued, her face enveloped with deep sorrow. “As a result, Sail acquired chicken pox! He was already battling tuberculosis. When we took him to the doctor again, he suspected a heart problem and advised us to get him treated as early as possible in a big hospital.”
So Sail was taken by his parents to the Aga Khan Hospital in Karachi where after conducting the required investigations the doctors confirmed the need for surgery. The family was asked to be prepared with four lakh rupees.
“That was an impossible amount for Sail's father,” recalls Mubarak Ali, Sail's uncle who had also accompanied them to Baba's hospital in Bengaluru. “Sail's father works sometimes as a labourer and at other times as a gardener. With that meagre amount, maintaining his nine-member family is really hard. You should see how they manage with so little resource – all of them stay in just one room! Such an expensive operation therefore was out of question. Their plight was too pathetic for us to bear.” Mubarak Ali confided. His solemn expression at this point struck a deep chord within me. I could see that even though he could have broken down easily, he was suppressing that vulnerable side of his person probably because he was a man.
The Tumultuous Journey
It was at this time, when the family was grappling with the challenge of raising huge amounts for their son’s treatment that a classmate of Mubarak Ali, a doctor informed him about a hospital in India which operated for free. “Contact the Peace Heart Foundation, they will facilitate you to get there” he advised.
|Both the patients from Pakistan, Sail and Rukhsar, traveled for six continuous days to reach Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Medical Sciences, Whitefield, Bengaluru|
Peace Heart Foundation is a community foundation engaged in bringing relief to the poor and sick, especially those afflicted with heart ailments. It operates largely from Pakistan. Thus a series of e-mails went back and forth between this organisation and Mr. Sridhar, the Patient Correspondence Officer of SSSIHMS-WF to prepare all the papers including the medical visa.
Even though only one attendant is allowed for a patient by the foundation, special requests were made and thus Mubarak Ali, Shayada and her little son were now ready to cross the border – their first trip out of Pakistan.
This was a new challenge for them. Having lived all their lives in a remote rural area called Kandawal in the District of Sukkur in the South East of Pakistan, travelling to Lahore itself was an ordeal; it was a journey of 14 hours by train. In Lahore a trans-country bus awaited them to take them to New Delhi.
The scheduled date for this journey was May 14, 2012 and departure time was 6 AM. This meant they had to be present by 4 AM to enable all the security checks and other procedures.
Incidentally, this air-conditioned coach is the famous Lahore-Delhi Bus connecting the Indian Capital of Delhi with the city of Lahore via the border transit post at Wagah. This actually is of symbolic importance to the efforts of the Governments of both the nations to foster peaceful and friendly relations.
In fact in its inaugural run on February 19, 1999, it carried the then Indian Prime Minister Mr. Atal Bihari Vajpayee to attend a summit in Lahore. He was received by his Pakistani counterpart, Mr. Nawaz Sharif at the Wagah post.
|(Top) A scene from that historic day in February 1999 when the Lahore-Delhi bus service was set in motion by the prime ministers of both these nations|
Mubarak reached Delhi on the night of May 14, 2012. But he was then faced with another problem. “Our visa was reserved just for travel to Bengaluru and since we had landed at 9 p.m., there was no way we could leave that night. So, we had to spend the night in Delhi,” recalled Mubarak. This turned out to be nightmare because no hotel would give them room as their Visa documents specified their stay in Bengaluru only. After exasperating efforts, finally a hotel owner granted them a room for the night but not without exploiting their hapless situation to his advantage. For an accommodation worth Rs. 250 he billed them Rs. 700!
But their woes did not end there. Mubarak was taken for a ride the next morning when a broker at the railway station in New Delhi sold him two fake berths in the train for three times the actual price! So he had to pay for these tickets again when the Train Ticket Examiner came on his rounds.
After all these trials and tribulations, and a 36-hour-long tedious train ride from New Delhi to Bengaluru, Mubarak, with Sail and his mother finally landed in Whitefield on May 18, 2012 – it was six full days of travel!
There was another family that had made a similar arduous journey from Pakistan. The 14-year-old girl Rukhsar, had arrived from Hyderabad, Pakistan. She was accompanied by her mother and uncle too.
Enveloped with Warmth and Healed with Love
“I went to the main gate of the hospital to receive them,” recalled Ashwin V, with an enthusiastic smile. He is the Senior Manager in the Department of Cardiology. “There were clear signs of the long and laborious journey on their faces. Rukhsar particularly, looked very fragile and delicate. One look at her face and you could tell that she had dealt with a lot for her age! So I immediately brought a wheelchair and wheeled her to the Out Patient Department.”
|Dr. Rita, the doctor who could speak Sindhi, with Sail; she comforted the families
from Pakistan with her personal touch
“And the next thing I tried to do was to open up some communication with them. Language is the key. The ladies spoke only Sindhi (the Pakistani tongue). Fortunately, in our hospital we have Dr. Rita, the cardiologist, who knows this language. When she came in and started speaking to them in Sindhi, they were thrilled! Their comfort zone just expanded.”
“Rukhsar had PDA (Patent Ductus Arteriosus), a congenital heart disease,” explained Dr. Rita, “Simply put, it is a hole in the heart and in her case it was a large one. This was the reason for her stunted growth, breathlessness, frequent fevers, infections and so on. There is no cure for this through medication; surgery is a must. But it is not a complex operation and can be done in any decent cardiac care facility. I felt so sad that she had to travel such a long distance for a common procedure like this. The main issue is - they have no money.”
“Rukhsar's father is a teacher in a local school and she has four siblings. One of them is a chronic kidney patient who needs repeated dialysis. All the resources of the family is spent on this child and on the education of others. I could see they were desperate for help.”
Rukhsar's surgery in Baba's hospital happened on May 19, 2012. And it was 'a clockwork surgery' according to Dr. Rita since everything happened so perfectly. “She came in on day one, investigations were done on day two, she was admitted on day three, operated on day four, and shifted back to the ward on day five and discharged on day six. It was that good!” she exclaimed jubilantly.
|Rukhsar (in red gown) was the first to be operated and it was an extremely successful operation;
Sail (in blue dress) had to wait for a few days for the infection in his body to subside
Before they left, the ladies did not know how to thank Dr. Rita, Ashwin and the entire hospital. Rukhsar's mother took Dr. Rita's hand and kept saying, “We will come back here... We will definitely come with more patients. You too please come to Pakistan, to our place. You have given us a new life.”
|Ashwin V, Senior Manager, Cardiology, took great pains to make these
special guests from Pakistan feel at home in Baba's hospital
“It was a great feeling,” reminisces Dr. Rita, “It touched me a lot. It was as if we were now related to each other. They were so moved by our love and affection, and were so grateful.”
The most touching moment however was when Rukhsar's uncle said these parting words to Ashwin:
“During my school days, there was an opportunity to tour entire Pakistan with my friends but I could not make it because we had no money. I had decided since then that I would one day not only see the whole of Pakistan but also would go to India.
“But back then I never thought that when I travel to India one day, I would make not just friends but actually a family! To be able to go back to Pakistan and tell my friends there that I was received with such warmth and love, and welcomed as if I was coming home… this is incredible. This is something I would never ever feel anywhere else, and I also know I will never ever be able to reciprocate this in any form!”
So, the happy family of Rukhsar, who was now eager to run, cook, teach, and busy building new dreams gleefully, left Baba's hospital on May 22, 2012.
Making Sail Smile
But what about Sail?
“How was Sail when he stepped into the hospital?” I asked Ashwin.
“Oh Sail!” Ashwin broke into a hearty smile, “He was young and bubbly. I remember very vividly how the first thing he did as he stepped into the hospital compound was to cheerily run across the lawn. He was shouting 'Garden, garden...' I was actually shocked. Then his uncle clarified, 'You know, this child has not seen a hospital with such amazing lawns and impressive architecture... it is yet to sink into him that he is going to be operated here.'”
“This is one reason why Baba built such beautiful structures – He wanted them to emanate health. And I saw this happen. This seven-year-old was tired, hungry, dusty, smelly – everything he should be after a six-day journey and in fact more exhausted than the others because of his weak heart. But the moment he stepped in he was excited! I feel in some sense the healing began right from that instant itself,” added Ashwin.
|The Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Medical Sciences, Whitefield, Bengaluru established by Baba in 2001|
Sail was immediately admitted but unlike Rukhsar he needed to be in the ward longer because he had developed an infection. His recurring fever and cough started again because of the hectic travel. Thanks to the hospital's efforts, the Foreign Officer extended Mubarak's stay in India till June 18, 2012.
“I remember on the first day we pulled out some huge stuffed toys for him to play with, but Sail was overwhelmed seeing these characters. He was perhaps not used to anything like this before; it was an alien concept for him. So we tried to reach out to him through a warm touch, a loving hug, and so on but still he didn't seem to be opening up.”
“But one good thing I noticed was he liked the food; he relished the upma served by the Dietary Department.” After a couple of days I asked his uncle, 'Is there any one thing that excites Sail about India?' and he said, 'Yes, Indian cars.'
“That was a valuable clue. So we brought Sail little models of Indian cars and his attitude changed! He probably felt 'Here is a group of people who really love me, who will do things to make me happy'. And this made all the difference.”
|Sail (left) relaxing in the playpen in the inpatient ward; infact all the children enjoying with the toys there convert this ward into a playground of fun and frolic!|
Overwhelmed by Abounding Grace
What added to the family's comfort was that Dr. Sunil, an anaesthesiologist serving in the hospital, could also speak Sindhi.
“We never felt lonely even after Rukhsar's family left,” Mubarak said with a smile, “Because the nurses here are so caring. They come in time to give the medicines and do their duties diligently. And Dr. Sunil regularly comes to enquire about our well-being. In fact, initially we had a problem. Even though I could go out to have my meals, Sail's mother found it difficult to do so as she is illiterate and innocent. When the nurses came to know of this, the hospital made an exception and started providing food for her also. They were so understanding.”
|Dr. Sunil, another doctor who could speak Sindhi, was a big boon for Sail's family|
“What did you know about the hospital before you came here?” I asked Mubarak.
“Only after coming here I realised that this hospital treats people completely free of cost,” he replied. “At first I thought only both our families from Pakistan were being given 100% discount perhaps because of the foundation that sent us. But now I know that this institution offers free service to each and every patient! I did not know anything about Sai Baba before... when God shines such a blessing on mankind, it makes life so much easier and so wonderful.”
After the infection in Sail's lungs was cleared, he was operated upon on June 8, 2012.
|Sail's heart surgery in progress - June 8, 2012|
“Sail had a congenital heart disease,” explained Dr. Kumaran, the surgeon who operated on him. “He was diagnosed with PDA (a hole in the heart) - a lot of blood was going into his lungs, which is why he was having recurrent infections. His surgery was a challenge because he had an active infection, though it subsided with intra-venous anti-biotics. We expected a stormy course post operation because of his active infection, but luckily he came out of it very nicely! He can now lead a normal life like any other child. He can go back to school and play!”
|"This is an exceptional monument of healing... I am indebted to everyone and to God" - Mubarak Ali|
Shayada, ecstatic with her son's recovery, could not conceal her happiness. She was all smiles when she said, “Sail will now go to school. He is always fascinated with cars; he says he wants to drive a coach when he grows up. He even told Dr. Rita that he will drive her around Pakistan in his big car when she comes over there. He is feeling so good and so happy.”
Before they left, I asked Mubarak, “What are you taking with you to Pakistan from here?”
“I am taking our child back home healthy – what can be happier than this?” he shared joyfully, “This is an exceptional monument of healing, a refuge for the poor. Once we go back, I will share my joy with everyone there so that they too become aware of such monuments created by Baba. I am indebted to everyone here and to God.” As he bid good bye and looked up, the black Zebiba mark on his forehead (caused apparently due to the friction generated from the contact of the forehead with the prayer mat) shone evidently in the warm morning light.
A Unique Philosophy of Healthcare
|Dr. Kumaran (left), the surgeon who operated on Sail and Dr. Chandrasekhar, Head of the Department, Cardiac Surgery, in SSSIHMS, Whitefield|
Keen to know more about the surgeon who performed this operation, I later asked Dr. Kumaran, “How does it feel working in Baba's hospital?” Spontaneously he said, “The job satisfaction you get here is incomparable. I have operated on patients who do not have even normal clothes to wear – they use the cloth banners on the street to cover themselves during winters. When you can give high-tech and high-quality tertiary care to such people freely, it is really amazing! I will never get this kind of satisfaction anywhere outside. Moreover, one of my inspirations is our Head of the Department, Dr. Chandrasekhar.”
I requested the Cardiac Chief Dr. Chandrasekhar to share his reflections. “Working in this hospital is a completely different experience. Before I came here, I used to see the patient more often than not as an intruder! But then when Baba gave us an interview in 2008, he asked me about myself and then about the department: 'Do you have all the equipment? Do you need anything more? Is everything fine?' When I replied that we were doing fine, He then said, 'The patients who come to you are from very poor backgrounds; they have nobody. Therefore when they complain to you about something, do not shoo them away! Do not shout at them. Look into their eyes and talk to them with love.'
“That changed my perspective of patients dramatically,” confided the good doctor, and added, “I am trying to implement what Baba said that day to the best of my ability. Once you have this approach, surgery becomes a small thing; love and compassion take center stage. These days, the morning rounds that I do of our patients feels more than just a medical round, for me they have become darshan rounds! There is plenty to learn from our patients; they are our teachers in life...When you have this outlook, you begin to understand what spirituality is, and also the immensity of Baba's work. It is infinite; it is very deep.” I could clearly sense the transformation in Dr. Chandrasekhar, from being a regular cardiac surgeon to now being a philosopher-cum-healer, who also uses modern tools of cardiac repair and reconstruction.
|The all-smiles Sail now wants to go back to school and one day own a big vehicle to take people around in his country - he has
invited the doctors of the Bengaluru hospital for the ride!
But what Dr. Rita said that day will be etched in my heart forever. “When you join this profession you feel 'I will heal, I will cure'. But once you come here you realise that the Healer is somebody else, healing only happens through you, that is all. And you experience that life is all about Love and Gratitude... It is He who is loving the patients through us, and also in the same vein, loving us through our patients. Life is a constant Love exchange wherein all tasks are dedicated to Him alone.” Isn't that a beautiful philosophy of healthcare!
By Bishu Prusty (Radio Sai Team)
Graphics: Mohan Dora (Radio Sai Team)
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