A WhatsApp network helps protect hearts

Messages sent on the Save Heart Initiative’s WhatsApp group on Wednesday.  

From the border town Uri in Baramulla to the mountains of Banihal and Tanghdar, a WhatsApp group has emerged as a saviour for heart patients in Jammu and Kashmir.

It was started by a group of three cardiologists in 2016, with three more doctors joining in 2017. The ‘Save Heart Initiative’ has multiplied from one to three WhatsApp groups, with 256 senior physicians and cardiologists in each group.

Over the past 288 days, 7,029 patients, mostly in remote and inaccessible areas, have survived cardiac emergencies, thanks to the network’s intervention during the ‘golden hour.’

“Myocardial infarction and cardiac illnesses are touching epidemic levels in Kashmir. Timely management is vital. So we decided to integrate all levels of healthcare in Kashmir and use WhatsApp as a tool to provide expert opinions and live demonstrations,” said Dr. Nasir Shamas, a physician and founder member.

Initially, Dr. Shamas was joined by two more doctors, Dr. Imran Hafeez and Dr. Muzaffar Zargar, and they started offering free online consultation to doctors in far-off districts. “The result was that acute cases of myocardial infarction were treated in remote areas of Qazigund and Handawara,” Dr. Shamas said.

Telemedicine succeeds

A case in point is Shiekh Bashir, a resident of Khawarpara, 295 km from Srinagar.

He developed an acute cardiac condition on April 15 this year and may have died if there had been an attempt to shift him to Srinagar, which is nine hours away “Local doctors thrombolysed with streptokinase, helped by three doctors in Srinagar.The patient was then referred to a tertiary care centre for further evaluation and he survived the condition,” Dr. Shamas said.

Impressed, former director, Health Services Kashmir, Dr. Saleem-ur-Rehman worked to equip the remote doctors with new skills, and helped link cardiologists in 60 hospitals across Kashmir.