Although the work I am doing now keeps me very busy, I always felt that I needed to give back to my home country. So with the help of Mr. Sajid Shapoo, the father of one of my patients who came to me from Delhi and in collaboration with various government officers, we opened a bone marrow transplant unit at Maharaja Yeshwantrao (MY) Hospital in Indore, in central India. In India, most of the healthcare is provided in private and corporate hospitals, and poor people cannot afford treatment in these hospitals. After discussion with government officials in my state of Madhya Pradesh, I was able to convince them to build a six-bed bone marrow transplant center in MY, a government hospital for families living below the poverty line.
Typically, abandonment of treatment is a big problem. When a transplant is recommended, patients learn that it could cost $20,000. Costs can go as high as $50,000 if there are complications. I wanted to avoid that situation. In our unit, we can manage all the complications without worrying about money, since our operations are free of cost to the patient. However, the medical team has to raise funds through corporate donors, which is approximately $10,000 per patient.
In 2017, we hosted camps in several cities, where we did cheek swabs of patients and their siblings to collect cell samples to determine matches for bone marrow transplants. We identified 50 children who were matches. Right now, we are prioritizing patients under the age of 12 who have thalassemia, a genetic disorder in which children need lifelong blood transfusions. A bone marrow transplant negates the need for blood transfusions, allowing these kids and their families to lead better lives. Other than thalassemia, we see many patients with life-threatening disorders such as bone marrow failure, leukemia, sickle cell disease, and immunodeficiencies that could benefit from bone marrow transplantation. As of now, the Madhya Pradesh government has started construction of a separate pediatric blood disorder unit adjacent to the blood marrow transplant unit, as these patients have to be optimally managed for a successful bone marrow transplantation in the future.
Currently, two pediatricians who were trained at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Irving Medical Center are conducting bone marrow transplantation at MY Hospital in Indore. I monitor patients on a daily basis through electronic health records and help the pediatricians with patient and donor selection and day-to-day management of cases. Our first 20 patients were discharged after their bone marrow transplantation. We plan to conduct three or four transplants per month, as we have a growing waiting list of 50 to 60 patients.
Making a difference in the life of a patient and their family is what makes me wake up every morning and helps me sleep every night. But I can’t do all these things on my own. I’m grateful to be part of a system that is committed to improving health of children in the U.S. and globally. I am constantly inspired by the resilience of the patients I treat, and I believe that every child, rich or poor, has a right to a healthy life. By treating these patients, I am giving them what my brother Ramesh never had: hope for a bright future. I am not poor anymore, but I have not forgotten the impact of poverty on children.