The family was told they would have to arrange for blood before the surgery

A 20-year-old man was referred from Thanjavur to a private hospital in the city for surgery, to fix a hole in his heart. The youth’s grandfather works as a watchman in an apartment building in Chennai. His family does not have the money to pay for the surgery but was wary of even considering treatment at a government hospital.

Why would they not consider having the surgery at GH? They said they had heard horror stories about people going to government hospitals and would rather get the surgery done at a private hospital, even though they did not have any government-sponsored health insurance cover. They chose to have the young man admitted at a private hospital in Vadapalani. The employers remained in touch with the watchman, gathering as much information as they could about the boy’s condition.

As the family met with the doctors and surgeons, they were confronted with a new problem. The hospital told the boy’s relatives that they would have to make arrangements for five units of blood before the surgery could be performed.

The family hails from Ariyalur and did not know anyone here. His grandfather had to seek the help of his employers. Blood donation drives notwithstanding, it falls on the family of the patient to make arrangements for the required units of blood. This is true of even government hospitals.

An elderly resident in the apartment decided to help the family but was constrained by her lack of access to the internet and knowledge about the nuances of blood donation. The search for voluntary donors began on Tuesday, for the surgery that was to be performed on Thursday. After scores of calls to strangers whose numbers were listed on websites dedicated to blood donations, a few agreed to donate. Some were willing but the deadline given by the hospital was too short for them as they were busy with work, they rued.

It is not that difficult to get blood components if you have the money. In this case, the youth could not afford any money and the elderly woman was helping the watchman as he had been working in the building for over 20 years. Her journey in quest of blood brought her face-to-face with a host of practical difficulties.

At the end of the ordeal, she had learned quite a few things: that private blood banks exist, voluntary donations are generally the only solution to such crises and some hospitals do not accept blood components but rely on donors. When a person donates blood voluntarily, all he has to do is mention the name of the patient who needs it at the hospital. He need not have to meet the patient or his family.

She also learned that the blood bank in the hospital will update the patient’s family about the donations made. That though donors may be willing, sometimes their health may prevent them from donating blood. She began making enquiries with relatives, some of whom put her in touch with their friends, who arranged for volunteers to donate blood. The youth’s father appealed to a couple friends who agreed to donate blood. On Wednesday evening, the hospital informed the family that they had received sufficient units of blood and so, the surgery could proceed smoothly.

The elderly woman said, “Now I am armed with a lot more information and can help others in such situations.”

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