Badlapur perhaps has the biggest story of change in Maharashtra. Thirty year-old Anwar Khan, who made history as the state’s first heart transplant patient, is now a computer repairer and has a supportive partner in Rumaana, whom he married six months ago. His prayer goes out for the 42-year-old brain dead woman from Pune whose heart was transplanted into his in Mumbai six years ago.
“I am perfectly fine and am keeping up with the routine exercises apart from taking the relevant medications,” he says. It took a viral infection to detect his condition. “I started getting symptoms of shortness of breath that persisted after the fever. A 2D Echo test showed that my heart was not functioning as well as it should. The ejection fraction was around 35 per cent, which meant I was at high risk of heart failure. I was extremely scared about the future. My father has a small business dealing with scrap and my mind raced at the expenses we would have to bear in the event of a surgery,” says Anwar.
Doctors advised him to meet surgeons at Fortis hospital, Mumbai, where he was diagnosed with cardiomyopathy or a low pumping capacity. His wait for a healthy donor heart was not too long as the parameters matched with a brain dead patient from Pune whose relatives had consented to donate organs.
Dr Sanjeev Jadhav, who was involved in the successful heart retrieval at Jehangir Hospital in Pune, and Dr Anvay Mulay, who performed the transplant at Fortis Hospital in Mumbai, gave Anwar a new lease of life. After 22 days in the ICU, Anwar regained his strength by following a proper diet that included home-cooked food and an exercise regimen. His medicines are life-long and with the belief that he could maintain his heart health with mindful living, Anwar completed his studies and picked up small jobs. “I had to leave my course in animation due to strict stay-at-home protocols for post-transplant patients in the initial months.” However, he soon started going to the gym and did not miss visits to the hospital or submitting 2D Echo reports every three months.
Anwar and his family (parents, three brothers and sister ) overcame many challenges during the pandemic. While his parents started convincingly Anwar to get married and were looking for a suitable match, he admits that he did not think it would be a reality. “It is not often clear how long a person can survive after a heart transplant and I was not really optimistic that anyone would want to marry me,” says Anwar. He was pleasantly surprised when Rumaana agreed. “She knew everything about me as we have known each other for a long time. She works at a pharmacy and we got married six months ago. Yes, I really do have to keep pinching myself that this is not a dream,” he says.
Says Dr Mulay, who is now Director, Advanced Cardiac Surgery and Heart Transplant, Sir HN Reliance Foundation Hospital, Mumbai, “I am elated to witness so many patients not only getting a second chance to live but also making the most of this opportunity. It is the high risk and uniquely complicated nature of cases that induce a sense of purpose in us and allows us to demonstrate the importance of an experienced multi-disciplinary team approach coupled with determination to ensure patient-centric treatment and care. Additionally, it extends hope for a collaborative future by addressing the need for organ donation so that more people can benefit and get a quality life.” He recalls the time he used to display banners at Mulund railway station in 2015 appealing for organ donation. Dr Mulay and his team of surgeons have since completed more than 150 heart transplant surgeries and 80 per cent patients are alive and well. Some died during Covid and others for different reasons.
For 30-year-old Nanda, a resident of Mumbai’s Dharavi, nothing is more pleasant than seeing her five-year-old daughter Lavanya playing. Just months ago, the girl could barely walk. Eighteen-year-old Mitesh Dharve, a resident of Lonavala near Pune, now steps outside unworried. Last year, he was bed-ridden and a single footstep for him was like walking a mile. Both had a weak heart, which was functional enough to keep them breathing. Then they found a second life with a heart transplant.
“I would have never imagined Lavanya living like other kids. She was just a three-year-old when doctors found a major hole in her heart,” says Lavanya’s mother Nanda. With transplant being the only option left, Nanda, a single mother, had lost all hopes. But Lavanya’s teacher helped Nanda, referring her to Sir HN Reliance Foundation Hospital where her child got her heart transplanted and received a full medical claim of over Rs 45 lakhs through a charitable organisation. “We waited for three months and then finally, a donor was found in Indore,” she says.
For Mitesh, it was altogether a different journey. His entire childhood was compromised as a little exertion brought him to his knees and he had to regain his breath. “By the time I turned 17, my heart was working just 15 per cent and it was like a slow death,” he said. But it all changed last year when he finally made up his mind and got himself registered for a heart transplant. “When I received a call of a heart donor being available in Pune, I quickly prepared myself for the operation,” Mitesh said.
With the cost of the transplant being Rs 25 to 30 lakhs, his father, a government employee, sold a piece of land in his hometown and arranged the remaining money through the help he received from the Tata charitable trust. Mitesh now wants to rejoin his school and dreams of going to college.
According to a report published by the National Center for Biotechnology Information, 20 to 30 per cent of patients die waiting for a donated heart. As per cardiovascular surgeons, both availability and logistics for transplants are limited. The heart has to be extracted from a brain-dead person and within four hours needs to be transplanted. Getting the organ from the person with the same blood group, the high cost of the operation, hesitation to donate the organ due to religious issues and lack of awareness are some other constraints. Moreover, patients are many times misguided by the risks associated with the transplant and post-operative complications and prefer to stay away. More awareness campaigns and living examples can change the story.