When Shivani Tibrewal, a businesswoman and the current president of the Rotary Club of Greater Tezpur (RCGT), met Kiran Joshi, a chartered accountant and fellow Rotarian from Shillong, she discovered the Gift of Life Program.
The program is an undertaking by Rotary International, a global network of non-profits made up of businesspersons and working professionals, which arranges free surgery for economically weak children up to the age of 18 years, suffering from congenital heart diseases.
“As someone who has lived with congenital heart disease since birth, I decided that I won’t let children suffer from the same because of a lack of money,” said Shivani, speaking to The Better India. “Thus, all Rotarians at Tezpur, Assam, created a network of doctors in and around the town and told them that we are ready to help children from BPL families with congenital heart disease.”
After their meeting, Kiran undertook efforts to establish ties between the Rotary Club of Greater Tezpur (RCGT) and their Delhi East End counterparts.
On many occasions, patients from rural parts of Northeast India have to travel thousands of miles, seeking treatment at super-speciality hospitals in bigger cities like Mumbai and Delhi for major heart surgeries. Going to a faraway place for medical treatment and staying there for months is difficult and expensive, and the cost is especially hard to bear for low-income families.
“We have and are continuously building a network with doctors in Tezpur and adjoining areas, who receive such cases of BPL families and then refer them to us if they cannot afford surgery. After they come to us, we send their medical reports to our team members in Delhi, who refer them to doctors. Once the doctors feel that we should send them to Delhi, we convey this to our patients,” says Shivani.
The Gift of Life initiative has tie-ups with Fortis Escorts New Delhi and the National Heart Institute.
There are multiple logistical challenges in sending patients from Tezpur to New Delhi. These include ensuring proper travel, accommodation and medical treatment for patients.
Additionally, most of the people who avail of their services are poor and illiterate and have barely ventured outside the city limits of Tezpur. Language is also a major problem.
To overcome these issues, the RCGT sets up all travel arrangements, and members often accompany patients and their families to Delhi. In Delhi, they are given accommodation and food by Manav Ashray, a non-profit. Here the patient and his/her family stay at the cost of Rs 125 per day including three meals.
“We ensure that at any point of their stay or treatment, the family isn’t inconvenienced. Moreover, as the surgery is for children, the mother is allowed to stay at the hospital during surgery and convalescence period,” says Kumud Joshi, a working professional from Tezpur and a member of RCGT.
Another significant challenge is collecting funds for the endeavour.
“We gather funds from all the dedicated RCGT club members made up of business people and working professionals, but sometimes this isn’t sufficient. Some members make extra commitments as well. This year, RCGT has contributed almost Rs 1,50,000. Fortunately, our counterparts in Delhi receive global grants from their international rotary partners. If we require extra funds, we reach out to them. It’s a team effort,” says Joshi.
In Delhi, the Gift of Life initiative is funded and managed by several noted Rotarians. These philanthropists include Sushil Gupta, a Rotarian since 1977, who has served in various capacities on assignments such as Polio eradication.
Credit is also due to Peter, the man instrumental in the success of the Gift of Life Program in the Delhi region. And finally, there is Dr Nischal Pandey, a heart specialist at the centre of the Gift of Life program in the Delhi and Greater NCR region.
Thanks to the efforts of Rotarians, eight patients from in and around Tezpur, including a one-year-old, have received free heart surgeries in some of Delhi’s best hospitals.
“When I learnt that my 16-year-old daughter Sangeeta Singh was suffering from congenital heart disease, I felt hopeless. We could not afford the cost of surgery. This was when her cardiologist told us about people from the Rotary club. At first, I was wondering why someone would help us bear the cost of surgery, but that’s when I met Miss Shivani,” says Uma, a cook by profession.
On reaching Delhi, she talks about how folks at the Delhi East End club assisted her and Sangeeta, and everything went smoothly. “I would like to thank everyone including doctors at the National Heart Institute for their help,” she added.
Subra Saha, another grateful parent, was initially distressed for his 2-year-old son, Sankalp.
“I was worried as the heart surgery was a tough one. On meeting Ms Shivani, however, I grew in confidence that my son will pull through. We had to stay for several days in Delhi, and only because the accommodation provided by Rotary was affordable that I was able to stay in a big city. Thankfully, the surgery at Fortis Hospital went well, and we are delighted,” says Saha, a small trader from Tezpur.
The RCGT wants to further expand its reach and assist more BPL patients. At the same time, they want more people to come forward and join their effort and help them raise funds.
“If possible, we would like to establish more tie-ups and help patients suffering from other health ailments as well,” says Shivani.
For further details on this initiative, you can reach out to Shivani Tibrewal.
(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)