Their hearts beat for needy angels

Last Updated 30 September 2013, 14:31 IST

The Needy Heart Foundation was born when three doctors realised that many poor patients couldn’t even afford basic healthcare, let alone correcting heart ailments. Today, more than 2,000 lives have been saved, thanks to the foundation, says Priyanka S Rao.

Hospitals are places of hope — hope for a new life, better health and improved living. It is with this hope that the poor confidently climb the stairs of a hospital and it is this hope that sends them angels to answer their prayers.

As an answer to the prayers of scores of underprivileged people, a charitable trust in Bangalore took shape 12 years ago with a mission to make expensive state-of-the-art heart surgeries available to the poor. The Needy Heart Foundation’s remarkable journey boasts of having saved the lives of over 2,000 poor heart patients from all over the country.

The Foundation is the brainchild of three driven cardiac surgeons who were motivated to help poor heart patients they came across during the course of their work and at heart camps in rural areas. The young surgeons had witnessed heart-rending instances of babies dying  just because they were born to poor and ignorant parents who neither understood the implications of heart defects nor could afford expensive surgery.

Some of them did not even have the money to come to the hospital for a check-up and consultation. Seeing the growing number of people in dire need of treatment, the surgeons decided it was time to do something. They soon got together with a few like-minded individuals and thus the trust was born in 2001. A majority of the beneficiaries of the trust are children.

“Generally, children come with a hole in their heart. After a certain age, children with defects become inoperable and hence, they need to be operated on time. There have been cases when parents of young children have approached the trust only to be told that they are too late,” says Dr Joseph Xavier, a founding trustee who specialises in paediatric cardiac surgery.

Dr Xavier narrates one such heart-wrenching incident of a 10-year-old girl he couldn’t save. “She was a beautiful child with a promising life who had a hole in her heart and couldn’t be operated upon. When I asked the father why he hadn’t come sooner, he said that a doctor had told him that the hole would close up on its own. We were surprised and realised that there is a lot of ignorance even among the medical fraternity and awareness needed to be created. Even now, we hold talks in both medical and public fora,” he says.

Currently, the trust is tied-up with eight well-known hospitals in Bangalore to provide quality treatment to the poor. A multi-stakeholder system is followed where the treatment cost is borne by donors with government  assistance . The hospitals give discounts and knock off overhead and professional fees, and veteran doctors associated with the trust perform surgeries for free.

The patients are also asked to contribute whatever money they can. “We make sure not to overstretch the patients while also ensuring that we are not being taken advantage of. Asking them to pay (money) increases their sense of self-worth...they feel they too have contributed and value it. Else, they won’t appreciate what has been done for them and won’t listen to us. Follow up becomes difficult,” says Dr Xavier.

The main challenge has been fund generation. The trust that prides itself on having zero per cent overhead – every trustee contributes his time, energy and resources voluntarily – mainly depends on donations. There are also rich patients with a change of heart, literally! “The good thing about cardiac surgery is that whether you are admitted in the general ward or deluxe ward, all are treated equal in the ICU.

Nowhere else does a rich man get to see a poor man at the same level. It is here that one’s perception of life changes. Many rich patients come forward to donate money after their surgeries,” says Dr Xavier.

Rotarian O P Khanna joined the board of trustees as chairman motivated by the same factor. “I was on a holiday in Bangal­ore in 2001 when some people at Manipal invited me to give a talk on their annual day. At the function, I was asked to take up the cause of Needy Heart.” He had und­e­rgone a cardiac surgery the previous year.

He found himself sympathetic to their cause. From eight cases in 2001 to 500 in 2013, Needy Heart Foundation has come a long way. “Needy Heart has been well received and appreciated. This has given us a lot of encouragement. We get patients from Indonesia, Pakistan, Mauritius, Sri Lanka, Nepal and Bangladesh,” says Khanna.

To contribute, visit http://needyheartfoundation.org.

(Published 30 September 2013, 14:31 IST)

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