“You are the light in the darkest moment of my life,” said Paul.
“We follow the religion of humanity, we are brothers,” replied John.
These were the first words they exchanged when they met for the first time three months ago. When Sakhi John, a professor of management studies at Jamia Hamdard University in Delhi, travelled over 2,500 km to meet Shaju Paul, who works as a bus-cleaner and lives on a small patch of forest reserve land in Peechi, a village in Kerala’s Thrissur.
On December 21, John will make that journey again — this time, to donate his kidney to this “complete stranger” at Lakeshore Hospital in Kochi.
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For 44-year-old Paul, that would mean a new lease of life, after doctors delivered their verdict in July; after his village formed a “samiti” to collect Rs 22 lakh to fund the transplant; after a foundation helmed by a Christian priest, a kidney donor himself, reached out; and, after three donors backed out fearing the maze of paperwork involved.
But 45-year-old John is going ahead, despite his family’s concerns about post-transplant complications. And, despite having had to juggle classes to undergo at least 375 medical tests and do the rounds of government offices in Kerala during his three visits to complete the documentation needed.
John’s next visit “will not be the last”. “But it will be the most important one. The doctors say there is 95 per cent compatibility,” he says.
Speaking from Peechi, Paul says he had lost all hope until John arrived. “When I came to know that both my kidneys were damaged, I was shattered. I was the sole breadwinner of my family… my wife Shibi and children Alwin and Angel. But then, Sakhi came like an angel with the gift of life,” says Paul, who has undergone 98 dialysis sessions.
According to John, when it was decided that Paul had to undergo a transplant, “he didn’t even have Rs 5,000”. “In July, he required four sessions. It was very difficult until the residents of Peechi came forward to help. Since Shaju cleaned buses, apart from selling milk from the two cows he owned, a number of bus-drivers also contributed,” says John.
It was during this time that Paul got in touch with Father Davis Chiramel, who heads the Kidney Foundation of India.
“In 2011, after my father’s eyes were donated after his death, I met the ophthalmologist who had conducted the transplants on two recipients. He told me how they could see the world again because of my father. That was when I thought of donating my organs,” says John, who originally hails from Thiruvalla in Kerala.
Another reason, he says, was his political leanings that led him to social work. “I moved to Delhi in 1992, was actively involved in Left-wing politics and started working with railway colony workers. Later, I got associated with a local NGO for slum kids. After I started teaching, I specialised in health management. This was the turning point. I travelled to villages in Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan and worked with AIDS patients. I continue to do this,” he says.
In 2015, John met Father Chiramel and volunteered to donate his kidney on two conditions. “First, the recipient would be from the economically weaker section. Second, the donation would not be publicised,” he says.
However, last week, John’s donation sparked a buzz following a friend’s post on social media after the authorising committee set up by the Kerala government gave the green signal for the transplant.
Kerala is among the few states that allows a liberal interpretation of the law on kidney donations from those who are not related to the recipient after each case is vetted by a committee to ensure that the donor is not being lured by money.
The law recognises three types of living donors: close relatives such as parents, siblings, grandparents, grandchildren or spouses; others who can donate for “affection and attachment” or for a special reason other than for financial considerations; and, “swap donors” where close relatives are swapped between patients whose own family members are incompatible.
But the paperwork was still numbing — 59 pages of various forms to be filled, approvals needed and 32 documents to be submitted.
“Since Shaju had never been to school, I offered to get his paperwork done. I had to prove at every point that my donation did not involve any transaction. My worry was if I failed to get even one of the documents, I would not be able to donate,” says John.
According to Father Chiramel, John is the 59th kidney donor facilitated by the foundation and the first by a non-Kerala resident. “Now, the national capital is also a part of this great movement,” he says.
Back in Ghaziabad’s Indirapuram, John’s family is “not surprised”. His 21-year-old son, Joel, says this is not first time that his father has taken such a decision.
“Two years ago, we travelled through the tribal belts of north India after my father decided that the family would adopt a girl child. After a long search, we had also finalised a child. But the adoption laws in Jharkhand forbade the adoption of a tribal child,” he says.
Today, Joel is pursuing his father’s dream and studying for a degree in social work at Delhi University.