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Pioneering heart transplant patient to honour donor

Poornima Nataraj, Bangalore, Nov 18, 2012, DHNS: 0:18 IST
Reena Raju
November 18 was a special day for Reena Raju. It is her third year as beneficiary of a heart transplant, the first on a woman in Karnataka.

To commemorate the occassion, and in memory of her donor, Raju plans to launch a Kannada song ‘Baalu Belagisi’ on YouTube and social networking sites.

The song, written by Raghavendra Kamat, with music composed by Raj Narayan, will be sung by Raju herself. She explained that the aim of the song is to reach out to citizens of the State, to spread the message of organ donation.

Raju has expressed worry about the long list of recipients waiting for organs and the lack of awareness in society about organ donation. “Just by having a donor card, one cannot donate organs. It is very important for a person to keep his/her family and loved ones informed about their intention to donate organs. There have been many instances when the family has refused to oblige organ retrieval even though the patient had a donor card,” she said.

Part of the problem is how the medical system in the State processes deceased patients. In Tamil Nadu, it is compulsory to counsel the families of brain-dead patients.

In Karnataka, however, many brain-dead cases simply go unidentified. While there is a ZCCK (Zonal Coordination committee of Karnataka for Transplantation), sources revealed that there have been only 44 transplants since 2007, against some 850-odd recipients waiting for a donor. While clearly happy about continuing a normal life, Raju made it clear that pledging organs for donation is not the same as actually donating organs.
Personal dedication

Raju, 31, was diagnosed with heart failure in 2006. With the help of a donor, she underwent a successful heart transplantation in 2009 at the Frontier Lifeline and Dr K M Cherian Heart Foundation in Chennai. With the continued use of immunosuppressive and anti-rejection drugs after the transplantation, she said that she is now leading a normal life.

According to Raju, one of the biggest challenges an organ recipient faces is to maintain the cost of post-transplant medication. The cost of the medicine amounts to Rs 8,000-15,000 a month, which most patients cannot afford. There have been instances where patients have died after being unable to afford the cost of medicine, Raju explained.

To help spread awareness about organ donation, Raju started the ‘Light a life-Reena Raju Foundation’ in 2011. The Foundation offers much-needed information and counselling about organ donation and transplantation. By raising funds through various organisations, the Foundation has also helped provide many organ recipients with life-saving drugs.

When asked whether a new heart in her had altered her personality, Raju said: “It feels really overwhelming to have another person’s heart beating in your body. Post transplant, I felt the same energy I had before I fell ill, otherwise I am the same person,” she said.

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