I didn't want to write about this. I hate sharing personal miseries with others. I've never done it before. But now, I think I should; because if it might inspire a person to donate an organ, it could change the life of at least one of the countless patients awaiting transplant surgeries.
This is also the tale of a noble soul who came forward confidently to donate an organ to an absolute stranger without any kind of monetary motive. Being at the receiving end of this kind gesture, I am alive today, getting back to a normal life.
On the 12th of February 2011, I was admitted to the ICU of the Medical Trust Hospital in Kochi following vomiting of a huge amount of blood and a state of memory loss that followed. The diagnosis came in as a big shock to my family. It was non-alcoholic liver cirrhosis – the very same ruthless ailment that took my father away from us. There were no symptoms of liver problem until then and finally when they began to show up, it was a little late.
The fact that I was having such a terrible disease shook me initially. I thought I was going to die soon. I was young at around 26 and I knew how bad this could get. I had seen it happening to my dad. The image of my dad struggling to sit up or even breathe, caused by the heaviness of the ascitic fluid that got accumulated in his abdomen sent a chill down my spine. My spirits went down. The big dreams I had built collapsed. I began hating life.
The doctors stated that I needed a liver transplant surgery, sooner or later. That remained the lone hope. There were two options: a close member of the family could donate a portion of his/her liver or else, I had to be in the list of patients waiting for a cadaver organ. In my case, I had no one who could have qualified for the first option. At 55, my mother was deemed unfit and my brother wasn’t preferred, as hereditary reasons were taken into consideration. So I had to wait for a cadaver liver; or in cruel terms, I had to wait for someone to die.
On discharge, I was advised to follow a healthy lifestyle with a strict diet and exercises which was essential to keep me fit until the surgery happened. I followed it. Salt restriction was imposed and this made me eat less. I went for morning walks and jogs and exercised promptly. I banned junk food from my routine and included more veggies and proteins in my diet. In a few months’, I saw the obese, 234 pounder getting trimmed into a 170 pounder with lesser accumulated fat. Slowly and steadily, the lost love for life re-emerged.
Another 5 years went past. In the meantime, I had registered with leading transplant centres like Amritha Institute of Medical Sciences (AIMS) in Kochi and Apollo Hospitals in Chennai. I went to Chennai and waited there in my cousin Dinesh Varma's place for a few months. Afterwards, I came back to Kochi and followed up with AIMS regularly, keeping my health well checked up. I had the luxury to wait for some time. It was advised to hang on with my own Liver for as long as it could. But nothing was going to run long enough with a dying vital organ constantly whimpering from inside. By the March of 2016 my body began giving up. Hospitalizations became frequent and the alarm went howling loud. Dr. Sudheendran, the surgeon with a Midas touch, said that finally it was time.
My name shooted up in the list of patients awaiting transplant, monitored by the Government. But a further wait for a cadaver liver could have just gone over the edge. So my uncle Lakshman Varma, the man who stood with us throughout all our tough times, began a search for potential donors. There was only a tiny ray of hope as no one in our known circle volunteered. In a world where many people think thrice before even donating blood, it was hard to expect someone from outside coming forward to donate an organ and that too for a stranger.
But miracles do happen.
On one of the March mornings, as I was oscillating unsteadily between life and death on the hospital bed, a bearded man walked into the room along with my uncle. He was introduced to me as Alfred. He had come all the way from Kannur to undergo a few tests to see if his organ matched. I tried to smile. I thought I was looking at Jesus himself. He came near me, took my hands in his and said “Relax. Everything will be alright. I am praying. Hope the results will be favourable”.
This young man named Alfred used to be the car driver for one of my uncle’s friends. A highly religious man with staunch faith in Christ, he wanted to do something noble in the Pope Francis’ Year of Mercy. A social worker who donated blood 56 times before, he used to grow long hair just to subsequently donate it for the making of wigs for cancer patients.
He underwent all necessary tests. Blood tests looked good, but there was a trace of moderate fatty liver. The doctor said that it is common for people to have fatty liver these days. Anyhow, he had to get away with it if he was to donate. He went back, started a diet, exercised on a regular basis – all for me. Within 6 weeks, his fatty liver turned normal. It seemed that he was happier than all of us. He was excited that he was going to do it and even pushed us to speed things up.
One of the noblest human beings anyone would ever meet, indeed!
A date was finally fixed. 14 June 2016, a Tuesday. By about this time, I was completely down, finding it hard even to walk. The ascitic fluid formation that affected my dad badly was now harsh on me too. I couldn’t breathe freely. There was great difficulty in getting up from bed. My sleep was highly disturbed and I had to rely on pills which proved ineffective. Incidents of severe cramping all over my body began to occur frequently. Fluid restriction was imposed and in the peak of summer, I had to live with hardly any water to drink.
On the 11th of June, I was admitted to the hospital. Alfred joined on 13th evening. Everything was set. We, along with at least two dozen others got assembled in a big room from where everyone were, kind of sorted and taken to their respective theatres. I was the last one and I had watched everyone else, including my dear Alfred being taken inside. Finally when I was taken in, I was expecting a dimly lit room – a haunted house ambience. Much to my surprise, the operation theatre was more like a carnival venue. It was a brightly lit room bustling with lots of nurses, doctors and I guess, also students studying in the medical college.
One of my uncles, Kunjunni Ammmavan who is a doctor himself and a very close friend of Dr. Sudheendran had earned special permission to be inside the OT while the procedure was on. The last thing that I remember is his masked face, telling “I am here. Be cool”. Ah yes, then the chief anaesthetist’s voice uttering “Sajith, I am giving you an injection now after which you will fall asleep”.
At the end of the day, it was going to be a very major surgery. I was 99% confident that I would be awake again. Chewing down the thoughts of the remaining 1%, I said “I am all set ma’am”.
I was told later that it was a ten plus hour long surgery.
When I regained consciousness the next day, I was inside the IICU, recuperating slowly. The new liver inside me was adapting pretty quickly to the new surroundings. I was waiting for that one familiar face to come near me and tell that I was OK. The next morning, I saw that divine face of Dr. Sudheendran outside my glassed room. He came in with a real good smile and said “Hey man, the liver you got is rocking good. You are doing great”.
I was shifted from the ICU a week later, much earlier than what was expected. Then another week after that, I was discharged with 3 months of isolation suggested.
Today, on this Thiru Onam day, exactly three months after my re-birth day, I can’t believe how changed I am. No more salt restriction and I can eat whatever I want to. I can walk around freely. I can sleep peacefully. A few more weeks and then, I can be back to work in full mode.
I am indebted for life to the one person who showed an example of the highest order – Alfred. If he hadn’t come forward lending his helping hand, probably, I wouldn’t have been alive today. He is doing great and is just back from his Velankanni pilgrimage.
|Alfred (Standing left) and me|
There's a potential Alfred in every single one of you. Anyone can donate an organ to bring a dying patient back to life. I am not telling that it is as easy as donating a rupee. It is tough, indeed. You will go through a major surgery for no necessity at all. There will be pain. You will feel weak. You will have to be in an OT and an ICU. You will get confined to the walls of your home for a few weeks. But if it would end the suffering of a fellow human being, won't it be the noblest act you would ever do in your life? Then at the end of it all, you will become one of those real role models whom even the gods would admire.