Helping Hands

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A part of the pellet crisis was managed by doctors who flew from outside Kashmir. But there are many cases where victims were taken to hospitals outside the valley for specialised treatment. Saima Bhat reports a few such cases

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Since morning, Ahmad’s house in picturesque Batpora village of Langate area in north Kashmir is frequented by relatives, well wishers, friends and acquaintances. Ahmad, 20, is home after a long stay at Hyderabad. The mood inside the room where Ahamd sits in a corner is gloomy.

On August 05, 2016, Ahmad was part of a peaceful rally to nearby Kralgund village, when it was cut short by mighty presence of government forces. “They fired pellets and teargas shells at protestors. I was hit by pellets in both eyes,” recalls Ahmad.

After quick first aid at Handwara hospital, Ahmad was referred to Srinagar’s SMHS hospital. There, doctors informed him that the retina of his left eye is completely damaged. Another pellet particle has crossed by the eye corner, through temple bone, which hasn’t involved his right eye but has gone deep down.

Ahmad, a first year graduation student at Degree College, Handwara, supported his father by working with a private telecommunication company, on part-time basis.

Given the rush at SMHS hospital, Ahamd was asked to come back after three days for surgery. After the surgery, two locals NGO’s: Moomin Welfare Trust (MWT) and HELP Foundation, offered to send him to Hyderabad for advanced treatment. “The surgery at SMHS has hardly restored my eyesight. So I readily took the offer,” said Ahmad.

Since July, 2016, MWT and HELP Foundation jointly sent 48 patients to LV Prasad Eye Institute, Hyderabad for advanced treatment, where they were treated for free.

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“Around seventy surgeries were done in LV Prasad Hospital so far, including follow-up surgeries,” said Mohammad Ashraf Mir, who heads MWT.

Mir recalls how he struggled to cope up with scenes of pellet hit victims brought to Srinagar’s SMHS hospital.

“Those bruised eyelids, disfigured eye sockets still haunt me,” said Mir.

Disturbed by the brutalities he witnessed at the hospital, Mir rang up his chairman and then got in touch with LV Prasad hospital in Hyderabad. “They agreed to treat up to hundred pellet victims free of cost.”

Around same time Nighat Shafi, who runs HELP Foundation, contacted same hospital through her local friends, to help pellet victims.

Meanwhile, Mir, with the help of doctors at SMHS started identifying pellet victims who needed advanced treatment.

“I borrowed money from my friends to arrange air tickets for first two patients and their attendants,” recalls Mir.

Once that was arranged, Mir was worried about their lodging and food expenses in Hyderabad. “That is when I came in contact with HELP Foundation. And we started working together,” said Mir.

Within no time HELP Foundation mobilized its local donors and arranged air tickets for pellet hit victims and their attendants. “Then we contacted donors in Hyderabad who helped us with food and lodging of victims,” says Aashiq Ali, programme director, HELP Foundation. “One patient’s expenditure means at least Rs 1.5 lakh, it includes their treatment inside hospital and outside tests.”

Majority of patients sent to Hyderabad needed retina surgeries, which comes under specialised treatment. “All of them have been sent for follow up treatment at least once,” said Ali.

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In Hyderabad, Ahmad was not operated immediately, as he had undergone a surgery in Srinagar only a few days back. Instead, he was told to undertake a few tests and wait.

“They did a CT scan which showed that a pellet had gone deep down into my right eye and they couldn’t operate it,” said Ahmad.

After staying in Hyderabad for a week Ahmad came home. “I was told that my left eye can have only 20 percent vision.”

Now, Ahmad visits Srinagar’s SMHS hospitals every fortnightly for follow-up checkups. “My family is satisfied that at least I got the chance to visit best hospital despite our financial troubles,” said Ahmad. “Else they would have lived with the regret that if we could have visited a better hospital my sight had been restored.”

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Mohammad, 16, a Class 10 student, who lives with his maternal uncle in Palhallan, Pattan, was hit by pellets on his face when he stepped outside his house this August. “There were clashes going on in our locality that day,” said Mohammad. “I just went out to see what is happening when a cop fired pellets at my face.”

Once Mohammad reached Srinagar’s SMHS hospital braving all odds, he was admitted for a few days and then sent home without surgery. “They asked us to come back after a week. Tell me how a parent was expected to respond to this? There was a small scuffle between me and the doctors,” said Abdul Salam, Mohammad’s paternal uncle.

Then Abdul Salam got in touch with HELP Foundation who agreed to sponsor Mohammad’s treatment. “The next day we flew to Hyderabad,” said Salam.

During his twenty day stay at LV Prasad Hospital, Hyderabad, Mohammad’s right eye was operated. “In Srinagar doctors told us that his eyes are completely damaged. But after a surgery in Hyderabad, his vision is restored up to fifty percent,” said Salam. “I am thankful to HELP Foundation for all the help. They even provided for our stay.”

Recently, Mohammad missed his Class 10 examination, as he is unable to read with one eye. “I cannot concentrate as words start dancing whenever I hold a book in front of my eyes,” said Mohammad. “I am hopeful that by March I will be able to study again and sit in exams.”

Doctors at SMHS have advised Mohammad to visit Hyderabad for follow up treatment as he is showing signs of recovery. “They (doctors at SMHS) don’t want to take any risk,” said Mohammad’s uncle.

Mohammad’s uncle has once again approached HELP Foundation for financial assistance. “They have agreed to sponsor. I am flying on 20th of this month,” said Mohammad.

But not all were as fortunate as Ahmad and Mohammad. Three of the five pellet victims sent to AIIMS, Delhi by the state government, came back without any surgical intervention.

During initial days of crisis, Adhik Kadam of Borderless World Foundation (BWF), a Pune based NGO, flew six doctors including Dr Mahesh P Shanmugam from Bangalore. Collectively they performed 25 retinal surgeries.

Besides, Dr Sundaram Natarajan and his team, who speically flew from Mumbai, performed at least 450 retinal surgeries.

“They are the best retinal surgeons in India. We called them here to help us manage part of the crisis,” said Dr Suhail Masoodi, member BWF, Kashmir. “Not everybody could have afforded to visit outside Kashmir on thier own.”

Once the major part of crisis was handled both locally and by doctors outside Kashmir, the thrust is now on the rehablitation of the pellet victims. “There should be propoer traning of these pellet vicitms so that they can live thier lives with dignity,” feels  Dr Masoodi.

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