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Life after paralysis: Coimbatore rehabilitation centre shows the way 

September 07, 2022 07:16 pm | Updated September 08, 2022 10:27 am IST

S. Gopi at the offset press of the Ganga Spine Injury Rehabilitation Centre in Coimbatore on Wednesday.

S. Gopi at the offset press of the Ganga Spine Injury Rehabilitation Centre in Coimbatore on Wednesday. | Photo Credit: S. Siva Saravanan

A person performing exercise at the Ganga Spine Injury Rehabilitation Centre in Coimbatore on Wednesday.

A person performing exercise at the Ganga Spine Injury Rehabilitation Centre in Coimbatore on Wednesday. | Photo Credit: S. Siva Saravanan

The smiling face of Suresh Pandiyan greets visitors at the Ganga Spine Injury Rehabilitation Centre (GSIRC) at Kavundampalayam near Coimbatore. Armed with a wheelchair, Mr. Pandiyan takes care of the front office of the centre where once he was admitted for rehabilitation following a spinal cord injury he suffered in a two-wheeler accident. He uses a modified scooter to travel now.

“A paralysis patient paralyses the whole family as they need to make a lot of sacrifices. To take care of the breadwinner, the spouse or children may have to stop working. Taking care of a paraplegic patient drains the whole family’s resources, especially in the case of a middle-class or lower-income family,” says S. Rajasekaran, GSIRC founder and director of Ganga Hospital, Coimbatore.

However, according to him, a wholesome rehabilitation –- physical, mental and vocational –- can bring such persons back to normal life as in the case of Mr. Pandiyan and equip them to be independent and breadwinner for the family.

“Surgery is just the beginning of treating a spinal cord injury. Unfortunately, many people do not know the importance of a complete post-surgery rehabilitation which can equip them to be independent [depending on the type of spine injury]. We have only five such dedicated centres, including GSIRC in the entire country,” says Dr. Rajasekaran.

More than 70% of paraplegic patients, who were brought to GSIRC, were from lower-income families. The majority of them were men aged between 20 and 40 who work in heights, construction sites and victims of road traffic accidents.

“The outcome of spine injury depends on its severity. Complete spine injury is irreversible. Patients with neck-level spine injury will not have mobility of all four limbs. People also come with below neck level, below abdomen level and incomplete spinal cord injury. The focus of rehabilitation is to make them independent and ensure their accessibility to the community,” says G. Vignesh who is in-charge of the administration at GSIRC. 

The eight to 12-month-long rehabilitation programme starts with bed mobility exercise which equips the person to move on the bed, raise and sit without the support of others. This helps to avoid bed sores, too. The patients are then trained to move from bed to wheelchair and vice versa. Other exercises include gait walking, handling of a wheelchair, hydrotherapy in pool and the often needed walk using orthosis and walker equip patients to handle their body. 

Psychologists offer counselling to patients and their family members which is much needed for them to accept the injury and prepare themselves to brace a new life. Peer counselling is offered by persons who have undergone rehabilitation.

Patients are also taught to handle urinary and bowel dysfunction caused by spine injury. They are trained to learn intermittent catheterisation, a method of clearing urine using a tube, every three hours with the support of a clean and wheelchair-friendly toilet.

K.R. Vivek, 30, a racer who survived a two-wheeler accident while riding pillion, and S. Gopi, 34, a construction worker, who fell from a height, now handle the offset press at GSIRC which prints all stationery items, including patient admission forms, business cards of doctors and writing pads for Ganga Hospital. Sponsors have also assisted many others to set up petty shops, tailoring units and small ventures.

“Rehabilitation of a paraplegic patient is in a way rehabilitation of the whole family. When a paraplegic patient becomes independent and starts to earn for the family, it makes a huge difference. The process helps the family return to normal life,” says Rama Rajasekaran, director of GSIRC, which is run by a team comprising surgeons, physicians, physiotherapists, occupational therapists, peer counsellors, vocational trainers, nurses, psychologists and social workers. 

Dr. Rajasekaran acknowledges the support of the Rotary Coimbatore Central and the Rotary Club of Coimbatore Saicity for their three global grant projects and numerous other donors. 

With the support of sponsors and philanthropists, GSIRC is offering six hours of therapy using advanced equipment for a patient for ₹ 500. Other expenses include charges for the accommodation of the patient and a caretaker, costing ₹60,000 to ₹80,000 for eight to 12 weeks whereas the actual expense is about ₹7 lakh. Since 2014, the centre has rehabilitated over 2,000 paraplegic patients including people from different parts of India and foreigners including a boy from Afghanistan who survived a bomb blast. 

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