Two hundred children will undergo free surgery by an international team of doctors, to be held between October 19 and 25 by Sparsh Hospitals, Bangalore.

They were in the limelight two years ago when Lakshmi Tatma, a two-year-old ischiopagus conjoined twin from a village in Bihar brought world attention to Sparsh Hospital. I recall seeing the little girl on her mother’s hip and agony writ large on the faces of both parents. In November 2007, a surgery stretching for 27 hours by a huge team of doctors, nurses and paramedical staff led by Dr. Sharan Patil, enabled the child to be freed from her parasitic twin. It is nothing short of a miracle that little Lakshmi is able to walk normally today. A surgery of this magnitude is rare globally, it was the first time it had been done in India, and done free of cost.

The hospital was founded by Dr. Sharan Shivraj Patil in 2006. It is an integral part of Narayana Health City, which is the brainchild of the internationally-renowned cardiac surgeon Dr. Devi Shetty. While healthcare has become an industry today, Sparsh Hospital has a different philosophy. It was built on the premise that it is possible to build an affordable healthcare model, with world class clinical and research practice. The Sparsh Foundation, a non-profit arm of the hospital, is based on principles like building social responsibility programmes in the area of trauma and grassroots health camps, offering expertise in areas like disabilities which lack organised funding and funding medical intervention to economically backward families.

Sparsh Kavacha is a trauma insurance scheme which is affordable and provides for hospitalisation, death or disability benefits and out-patient casualty facilities. A primary resuscitation centre in partnership with the Government of Tamil Nadu has been established at the interstate highway at Hosur. Patients here are treated and stabilised free of cost before they are shifted to medical centres.

“Death and accidents are great levellers”, says Dr. Patil. “There is no class or creed difference; the trauma, the pain are the same. During accidents, it is the speed of medical intervention which saves many lives. No time can be wasted filling up forms and clearing red tape.” The Sparsh Foundation bears all the initial cost of resuscitation for even unknown patients for the first 24 hours after the accident, which is crucial. At times the family cannot be traced, and in such circumstances, patients receive the best treatment till the family is contacted. In fact, Sparsh Hospital is a national, tertiary referral centre for complex trauma services.

Right to dignity

Dr. Sharan Patil talks enthusiastically about disengaging affluence from healthcare. He feels strongly that every child has a right to live with dignity even if the parents cannot afford treatment. Three per cent of the Indian child population are mentally or physically challenged according to Dr Patil. With the scarcity of skilled professionals, and the cost of interventional surgery high, the obstacles are too many and complex. Sparsh Vachana has been conceptualised to address this problem. About 200 children with complicated muscoskeletal deformities have been selected. They will be operated upon to reduce their deformities, and all surgeries will be done free of cost. About 30 surgeons from the world over, along with the Sparsh team, will operate round the clock for a week. These surgeons will not accept a fee, and will travel at their own expense. The Johari team will be led by Dr. Ashok Johari, President of the Paediatric Orthopaedic Society of India. Team UK will be led by Dr. James Fernandes, a leading paediatric orthopaedic surgeon of the Sheffield Children’s Hospital. Team USA will be led by Dr. Belthur from Houston Children’s Hospital, Texas.

Changed lives

Six-year-old Latha, afflicted with rickets due to calcium deficiency, will be helped through a corrective osteotomy. A similar surgery along with plastic surgery will be done on eight-year-old Madhuri who suffers from a malunited left leg thanks to a bone fracture which was not treated correctly at the time. Eight-year-old Harish was born with a shorter leg and no toes. Twelve-year-old Navateja bears radial club hands, a congenital defect which will be corrected with an external fixator. Rajani and Namrata both suffer from congenital brittle bone disease and the treatment they will benefit from is called osteotomy where Sheffield rods are inserted. Vineeth, who was born without supporting knee ligaments, will go through a reconstruction surgery which is a complicated case. These are just a few examples of the children whose lives will be transformed by corrective surgery.

Appeals have gone out for donations for this worthy cause. What is heartening is that the local community has responded well, but it does not seem enough as the cost of surgery alone for each child is quite high. With proper funding, more such cases can be addressed. And hopefully Sparsh Vachana will become an annual event. Anyone wanting to donate can email: vachana@sparshhospital.com and visit the website www.sparshvachana.com. Sparsh Hospital and its doctors have shown us the way to healthcare for all, rich and poor alike…