Be ready’ cannot be the last word always,” says Sachin Karwa.”There is always hope; you have to keep fighting till the end.”
Karwa is neither a philosopher nor an author. Like you and me, he is an ordinary citizen. But unlike many of us, he never gave up. He did everything possible to ensure his wife survived a life-threatening illness. His wife suffered from pulmonary fibrosis, where the lungs are totally damaged and transplantation is the only hope. His wife’s doctors had told him to “be ready”, i.e. be prepared for anything to happen, at any time.
Recently, I worked on a five-part series on organ donation and highlighted how patients in need are stuck in the waiting list for years due to the lack of organ donors. Karwa’s refusal to let ‘be ready’ be the final word, touched a chord within me. I was stunned and also impressed that a person whose beloved was critically ill could speak with such confidence. Karwa’s is not an isolated case. In the series, I reported how four other relatives of critically-ill patients showed the same spirit, with a ray of hope that their loved ones would survive.
While researching the series, I felt their pain as the families I met narrated touching stories. In fact, my photographer colleague, who accompanied me, had tears in his eyes after hearing about their daily struggle to keep their loved ones alive.
With Mumbai being one of the biggest metropolises in India, people assume that the city offers the best medical facilities. They come here from all over the country in the hope that everything will be fine. However, Mumbai lags when it comes to cadaver donations because of a lack of awareness. People still believe in the myth that if one donates organs after death, there will be no rebirth.
The list of patients awaiting organs is growing by the day. So far, 1,800 patients are waiting for a kidney; 70 have registered for a liver and the wait continues for eight others who are in the last stage of lung disease. Just one lung transplant operation took place at Hinduja Hospital recently. A Mumbai man has registered for a heart, but not a single heart transplant has been conducted in the state.
The passing away of former chief minister Vilasrao Deshmukh has resulted in an increased awareness of cadaver donation. The government’s health department is also taking the initiative to make amendments in the current law which will benefit organ donations. There is a need for the department to ask hospitals with ICUs and operation theatres to have a counsellor on call at all times. The counsellor’s job should be to convince relatives of brain-dead patients to donate organs. Relatives are mostly traumatised and nobody from the hospital talks to them about the issue. So potential cadaver donations fall through. However, if the organs of brain-dead patients are in good shape, they may end up giving life to as many as 6-7 people.
The time has also come for citizens to take the initiative. If they do, people won’t have to go to another state in search of organs. At present, the South is the preferred destination for people in search of organs.
The health department should also make changes in laws and make them patient-friendly. For any information on organ donations, you can contact any government or civic hospital, including JJ, KEM, Sion and Nair.