Vijaya Bharat

Keeping Underprivileged Hearts Ticking

Vijaya is a cardiologist working in the city of Jamshedpur. She would often find herself in a tough position when it came to treating underprivilidged patients who needed pacemakers. That's what led to her decision to help them.

I am a cardiologist working in the steel city of Jamshedpur for the last 40 years. The company for which I work, provides free medical facilities to its employees and their dependents. I used to face an ethical dilemma whenever a poor patient got admitted, in dire need of a pacemaker. The pacemaker would keep him/her alive, but they did not have the resources. Since there was no social support system to help such patients financially, I had to discharge them with the advice to return after arranging money for a pacemaker. Most of them would never return. Out of desperation, on a cold winter evening in the year 2005, I typed 'pacemakers for poor patients' in Google’s search bar. Out of the few options that popped up, Heartbeat International in Florida, USA which provided pacemakers to poor patients through Pacemaker Banks, established and operated by Rotary Clubs, appeared promising. I approached a local Rotary Club and mobilized annual membership fee of US $2000 and established a pacemaker bank in Jamshedpur in January 2005. Since then, no poor patient who could lead a normal life with a pacemaker has been turned away from the hospital. Till date, as on 8th July 2017, 238 poor patients have received the gift of life through this initiative. Their hearts are ticking because of the free pacemakers provided by the Pacemaker Bank.
The youngest recipient is 22 year old Dosma Liyangi, who was diagnosed to have a heart block during her first pregnancy, which was a stillbirth. After the implantation of a dual chamber pacemaker, free of cost, she had two normal deliveries. Ten years later, when the pacemaker battery approached depletion, she got a second pacemaker, also from the Pacemaker Bank. As word spread about this unique facility, poor patients from the neighboring states of Bihar, Odisha and West Bengal also avail this facility. The hospital management gave me the freedom to waive off the operation charges for patients who are too poor. Another unique patient was a 50 year old man from Kabul, Afghanistan. He used to fall down unconscious and was advised a pacemaker by an outreach team from a corporate hospital in New Delhi. He managed to reach Delhi, but could not afford the cost. Through his acquaintances, he reached Kolkata and heard about the free pacemaker bank in Jamshedpur. He came to Jamshedpur, received a dual chamber pacemaker and returned. Eight years later, he visited me with gratitude and the pacemaker was still working well.
All the devices are new and from leading brands such as Medtronic, St Jude, Vitatron and Guidant. Expensive devices like implantable defibrillators and bi-ventricular pacemakers were also provided through the Pacemaker Bank in needy patients.They were sent from the USA and the annual fee of US $2000 was provided through the generosity of a good Samaritan, who trusted me and my purpose. The patients are followed up periodically in the follow up clinic and so far 12 patients have received replacement, which is a usual feature with battery operated devices.
In the year 2012, it became difficult to import pacemakers due to changes in the government regulations. I had to think of alternatives to continue with the work. A corpus was raised and devices of the same reputed brands were directly bought from the vendors and implanted in poor patients. The corpus is strengthened by the generosity of Rotarians and every year about 20 poor patients get the benefit of the same.
Hailing from the state of Kerala and living in Eastern India for 40 years, the greatest professional satisfaction for me is the humanitarian work of providing expensive pacemakers to poor patients who would otherwise die. I owe it to the community, which supports a genuine charity with unwavering trust in me.


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