In March 2015, Twinkle Kalia, a Delhi-based ambulance driver, was heading from Inderlok to Shastri Nagar, carrying her six-month-old daughter along. While she was waiting at a traffic signal, she noticed a group of people rushing towards her, carrying an unconscious boy who had lost a leg and was bleeding heavily. The group requested that she take the boy to the hospital.
And so she did, within a matter of four minutes.
“The boy lost his leg, but the doctor who treated him said that any further delay would have eliminated the chances of saving him altogether,” Twinkle tells The Better India.
Like this, there are several instances that Twinkle, along with her husband Himanshu, have to share about saving lives through their free ambulance services. Both work as insurance agents, and since 2002, have helped thousands across Delhi who are in distress and need of urgent medical help.
For those in need
The inspiration to work for this cause came from a personal incident that Himanshu faced when he was 14 years old. “One evening in 1992, my father met with an accident and had to be rushed to the hospital. We did not have the money to call for an ambulance or an auto-rickshaw. The people in the neighbourhood also refused to help. We eventually managed to collect some money and booked an auto-rickshaw,” Himanshu, now 42, recalls.
He says that while the accident took place at 7 pm, his father was only able to be admitted to AIIMS at 2 am. He lost out on the first few hours of treatment, which are the most crucial. The delay caused Himanshu’s father to fall into a coma, which had devastating effects on the family.
It took two years for his father to recover. As Himanshu himself recovered from the trauma, he promised himself that he would never let any mother or child go through the same turmoil his family had experienced.
So for their wedding in 2002, the couple received an ambulance as a gift from their parents. It was a strange request, Twinkle admits, but Himanshu’s tale of almost having lost his father was the motivation to make a difference in the lives of others.
Since then, the couple has been working round the clock to ferry patients in need for free. They carry out their services under a trust by the name of Shahid Bhagat Singh Help and Care for Society. Initially, they struggled to identify patients who could not afford the services. So they put up posters and circulated phone numbers to raise awareness. Slowly, they began receiving calls for help.
“We perform last rites, cremate bodies abandoned by families, and provide other ambulance services to people who cannot afford them. Such cases increased especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, when the relatives feared infections,” Himanshu says.
Over the last 20 years, the couple has expanded to a fleet of 14 ambulances and ten drivers. The drivers work during the day, while the couple takes over the night shifts. So far, they have helped 80,000 patients.
These include Yogesh Saini, an educator. “On April 25, 2021, during the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, I made a frantic call to Twinkle madam seeking help for my former teacher’s 80-year-old-mother. Her oxygen levels had dropped to 39 and the family failed to find a cylinder despite contacting multiple sources,” he says.
Yogesh says that it was Twinkle who sent the oxygen cylinder within three hours and saved the patient. “The old lady recovered in May, all thanks to the couple’s quick help,” he adds.
A life of sacrifices
Himanshu says helping such patients is a 24-hour job. The couple sleeps at 4 am and prepares themselves for the next day by 9 am. “We juggle selling insurance policies to potential clients and attending emergency calls. We have no set timings for lunch or dinner and eat as and when the situation permits. At times, we have to cancel scheduled appointments for insurance clients and attend to the patients in need,” he says, adding that they also lose out on possible earnings on such days.
He adds that apart from the financial sacrifices, the couple also suffers on the personal front. “As our income suffers, it reflects in our personal lives. We receive frequent notices from schools for delayed fee payment for our two daughters. At times, we have no money to add fuel to the vehicles, and the drivers’ salaries go on hold. We rely on heavy credits,” he says, adding that the couple has dues worth Rs 7 lakh.
Himanshu notes that people are under the notion that the trust receives support from the state or Central government. “There is no steady financial help, but some individuals offer occasional support. In 2019, the President of India conferred Twinkle with the Nari Shakti Puraskar, but on the personal front, our children were about to get expelled by the school for not paying the fees on time. Awards do not help us meet our financial needs,” he adds.
Moreover, Twinkle also suffers from health ailments. She was diagnosed with hepatitis B in 2007 and breast cancer in 2020. “I have undergone two surgeries and multiple chemotherapy sessions. But my commitment lies in helping the needy. At times, we felt frustrated as we were unable to lead normal lives, but the blessings and goodwill we earn are far more rewarding,” Twinkle says.
Himanshu says that he has three blockages in his heart’s arteries, for which he needs treatment. “But that can wait as long as more people benefit,” he says.
Their sacrifices and dedication have earned the couple numerous awards. Among them are the Delhi Gaurav Award in 2015 and the latest award in 2021 on International Women’s Day.
Himanshu says that despite the achievements, the couple wants to push more. “Thousands of accident cases are reported in Delhi each year. We need five additional ambulances to save more lives. Some people wish to help but do not know, how. We appeal to such people to help us and contribute to our cause,” he adds.
“Such aid will help us sustain our services, relieve some of our debts, and allow us to concentrate more on our professional lives to increase our earnings,” he says.
Even as the couple hopes for outside support, they feel their worries will end with earning the goodwill that comes from helping the needy.
To offer support to Himanshu and Twinkle, you can contact them on 8804102102.
Edited by Divya Sethu.