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High time to streamline organ transplants

By Ramya Kannan

Chennai Feb. 27. When Kannambal was declared `brain dead' after a two-wheeler accident, her daughter, Chitra Bharathi, despite the suddenness and shock of the event, decided that her mother's organs be harvested, so that they could be used to give life to others. Her father, M. Chandrasekaran, a retired PWD chief engineer, and her two sisters were all for the proposal. As Dr. Chitra Bharathi sees it, "My mother, even after she retired as a nursing superintendent at Sir Ivan Stede Ford Hospital, Ambattur here, wanted to help people and continued helping out on a free-lance basis. She definitely would have approved".

After a brief paper signing ritual, two teams of doctors at the Sundaram Medical Foundation operated on the healthy 59-year-old Kannambal and removed her eyes, kidneys and liver early Monday morning. The eyes went to the Rotary Eye Bank and the liver to the MOHAN Foundation; of the two kidneys, one will bring relief to a patient, suffering from renal failure, at the SMF, while the other made its way to the Christian Medical College, Vellore, Kannambal's alma mater.

The decision to harvest her organs was no doubt a difficult one to take for the family and personally, for Dr.Chitra. On Saturday last, Kannambal fell off the two-wheeler — it was negotiating a badly-built speed breaker — when she and her daughter were on their way to a private nursing home near Ambattur to assist in a Caesarean delivery. The retired nurse immediately became unconscious and was bleeding by the nose, though no external injuries were noticed.

Dr. Chitra Bharati rushed her mother to the SMF, where an emergency craniotomy was performed. Doctors diagnosed massive intra cranial bleeding, which could not be controlled. In simple terms, within 24 hours of the accident, Kannambal was `brain dead'. Though her children, Dr. Chitra Bharati, Dr.Uma Maheswari and Ms.Krithika, and husband Mr. Chandrasekaran, had to come to terms with the shock and grief, the decision to donate the organs was rather spontaneous.

The gesture comes at a time when reports have been received of blatant violations of the Transplantation of Human Organs Act. Paradoxes abound of noble acts such as Kannambal's co-existing with alleged incidents of buying and selling kidneys, in contravention of the provisions of the Act.

"Though Tamil Nadu is doing more cadaver transplants than any other State, much more can be done to help the cadaver transplant movement. If the Government helps us out, by tightening the provisions of the Act and providing an atmosphere which will encourage transplants, illegal sale is likely to come down substantially," according to Sunil Shroff, MOHAN Foundation founder.

Others, who subscribe to the same theory, point out that the Government's involvement in the movement will naturally loop in government hospitals. "It is in the government hospitals that we find the largest pool of cadavers. Inevitably, they are wasted for lack of a policy on the issue." It is also pointed out that it was high time that the Authorisation committee did some introspection and come up with measures to streamline the process of live unrelated organ transplants.

For the Chennai Corporation and suburban municipalities, the tragic death of the nurse comes as another reminder that their wooden attitude to road safety engineering standards costs more people their lives in the city.

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