Society

Madurai Doctor couple is winning hearts with free surgeries

INSPIRING: Dr.Gopi Nallaiyan and Dr.Hemapriya N with the kids   | Photo Credit: S James

While the world celebrated Valentine’s Day on February 14, a young doctor couple in Madurai silently celebrated the World Congenital Heart Disease Awareness Day by doing a four hour surgery on eight years old Janani from Ramnad, whose heart had a hole. This was Dr.Gopi Nallaiyan’s 102nd such free heart surgery in the last 15 months that he has been in town.

Later in the day, the paediatric cardiac surgeon’s heart clinic in Gnanavel Colony was abuzz with spontaneous cheer of little kids running around and the joyous smiles on the faces of their parents. Till about a few months ago the families were not aware of the defects in the little hearts and how Congenital Heart Disease (CHD) is a leading cause of birth-defect related deaths worldwide. On that Wednesday afternoon, more than a dozen of them who had undergone PDA (Patent Ductus Arteriosus) surgery in the last two months had turned up for their monthly check up and each of them was declared to be doing perfectly well.

Madurai Doctor couple is winning hearts with free surgeries

With his skill set, Dr.Gopi has transformed many defective hearts into heroic hearts. That he does not charge for the surgeries he performs and along with his wife, Hemapriya, donates and also raises money through crowd funding to make the full treatment for the patient entirely free of cost, makes the work more noble.

While the children playfully touch his feet, parents revere him. As Dr.Gopi examined four-year-old Manikandan, his grandmother stood next to him with folded hands. “His mother is a daily wager and so I brought him today from Reddiyarpatti,” she said and added how the little boy ever since he was born suffered repeated cough infections and bouts of breathlessness which were treated symptomatically by the local doctor.

In December, when the doctor couple conducted a camp in their village in Tirunelveli, the parents were shocked to learn there was a problem with the structure of their baby’s heart that was affecting the normal flow of blood. They were left with a sinking feeling as they knew they won’t be able to bear the financial burden of surgery in a city hospital.

But after talking to Dr.Gopi, they felt safe in his care. The surgery that would have otherwise costed them between Rs.150,000 to Rs.350,000, along with post-operative stay and treatment was organised totally free. The surgery was performed on January 5 and the smiles returned on every face.

Madurai Doctor couple is winning hearts with free surgeries

After completing his medical degrees (MS, M.CH, DNB), Dr.Gopi worked in big hospitals in Bangalore, Chennai, Hyderabad and Raipur. A flourishing career somehow left him feeling disturbed as he saw CHD on a daily basis. The push to quit a highly paying job came from patients who were clearly struggling to make both ends meet. “I felt helpless seeing many families from poor economic background who, due to lack of awareness and high cost of surgery, could not afford the needed treatment for their kids on time,” says Dr.Gopi.

As it is when you fall sick, you descend into poverty. “Reducing patients' poverty is a core part of a good doctor's job,” he adds. And the idealist in him found a way to help the poor.

He quit his job in a private hospital in Raipur and decided to shift to Madurai, his wife’s hometown, and set up Little Moppet Heart Foundation to provide financial and medical support to underprivileged children suffering from CHD. This was in November 2016 when they did a first tie-up camp with three city schools and screened 4,500 students up to age of 15 years. Of them 20 students underwent operation. Ever since Dr.Hemapriya, who is an Industrial Health physician, and Dr.Gopi have conducted 14 camps and screened nearly 15,000 patients in and around Madurai.

Each camp has thrown up 30 to 40 children with CHD conditions, says Dr.Hemapriya. The couple has an arrangement with Devadoss Multispeciality Hospitals in Madurai, where they use the infrastructure to perform the surgery and post operative care. While Dr.Gopi does not take any surgery fee, the hospital charges are met through donations, crowdfunding agencies like Milap and funds from the CM’s scheme.

“Our counselling sessions have helped the poor villagers, who are mostly daily wagers, realise the importance of coming to camps and getting their kids checked for ailments. They also feel relieved on knowing the treatment is free and as a result bring the child early when he or she is in operable condition,” says Dr.Hemapriya. Dr.Gopi now has a waiting list of three months for the free surgeries. He laments the lack of affordable facilities in a city like Madurai that caters to rural patients from a dozen surrounding districts.

In his career so far, Dr. Gopi has performed over 1,000 CHD surgeries. How does the couple sustain themselves? While Dr. Hemapriya also runs a health food business for babies (Little Moppet Foods), he travels around as a Consultant and does few paid surgeries as and when time permits. “Quitting a well paid regular job has been a life changing decision, but as doctors we need to tackle poverty as a health issue,” he says. “Otherwise, children’s treatment gets fatally delayed.”

“People should understand CHD is curable if detected and treated early. The Government and private sector needs to strengthen the under-facilitated healthcare system across the country,” she adds.

So many young CHD patients in and around Madurai would not have received any medical treatment if it weren’t for Gopi and Hemapriya. They believe in purpose of medical science and truly serve the purpose. They were then – and are -- the real Valentines of the underprivileged kids now in and around Madurai and later they dream of reaching out to kids across India.

QUOTES:

“We do not have a regular job or income. But to be able to earn experiences and blessings rather than money has taught us that there is so much more to life than what we generally presume – Dr.Gopi Nallaiyan

“Today we feel a sense of joy, contentment and overwhelming satisfaction at being able to give back to society – Dr.Hemapriya N

Facts ‘n’ Figures

Congenital Heart Disease is one of the most common types of birth defects affecting two out of every 100 babies born in India where 78000 infants die due to CHD annually

Many CHD cause few or no symptoms and are often not diagnosed until children are older.

Newborns with severe defects show rapid breathing, fatigue, poor blood circulation and bluish tint to the skin, lips, and fingernails

The defects can involve the walls and valves of the heart and the arteries and veins near the heart. As a result, blood flow can slow down, go in the wrong direction or to the wrong place, or be blocked completely.

Treatment depending on type of defect, severity and child’s age and general health can include medicines, catheter procedures, surgery, and heart transplants.

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Printable version | Apr 11, 2021 1:49:47 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/society/madurai-doctor-couple-is-winning-hearts-with-free-surgeries/article22835397.ece

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