It was January when Malaysian national Gobi Mayelvahanam (30) came to Mumbai, with the hope of getting a hand transplant. Eleven months on, in a Parel guest house he and his wife, Jaya, wait for a donor as they spend their days, realising the social stigma in donating a limb runs high. The city is yet to witness its first hand transplant on lines of Kerela, Tamil Nadu and Pondicherry, where it has been successfully conducted.
Like Gobi, two others remain wait-listed in Mumbai for a hand transplant — railway accident injured Monica More and an engineer from Punjab, Kulvir Singh.
Six months after his marriage, in August 2017, transport business Gobi met with a car accident when a lorry hit his car between town Klang and Banting. The accident crushed both his hands. It took 14 hours before doctors could reattach his left hand cut by the wrist, only to amputate it later due to failure. In his right hand, two fingers lost nerve sensations.
Nursing his amputated hand, Gobi says he restricted venturing out of house post amputation. “I am a sportsman, I used to love playing badminton,” he says.
His brother Vasant Kumar now looks after the business. Jaya (27) started reaching out to doctors in USA, Canada and Kerela, before finally getting registered with Global hospital in Mumbai.
Gobi has already spent Rs 40 lakh to stay in India and for one surgery. “It is tiresome and also worrying. I cannot leave India because a hand donation can happen anytime. We have to reach hospital in two hours if a donor is found, and Malaysia is six hours away by flight.”
Three brain dead patients were found compatible with Gobi since January, but the families refused to donate hand.
“Families do not want external scarring to the body. Before the first transplant happens, it will remain a big challenge to raise awareness,” said hand surgeon Nilesh Satbhai, who says the hospital is trying to raise awareness through brochures and articles to convince families of brain-dead patients.
The first successful hand transplant in India was conducted by Kochi-based Amrita Institute of Medical Sciences. Maharashtra is yet to witness one. In Pune’s Command hospital, the first attempted double hand transplant on a serving soldier failed due to hyper-acute rejection this year. A hand transplant surgery requires fusion of bone, two arteries, six veins, and tendon muscles.
“We both have decided to donate our organs after death. We realise its importance now,” Jaya, a staff nurse, says.
Like him, Punjab resident Singh (32) lost his right hand to electric shock in 2016. The electrical engineer eventually lost his job. A month ago, he got registered in waiting list at Global hospital. “We mortgaged our land to fund the surgery, but I am not sure when we will get a donor. My brother is supporting me as I remain at home,” he says.
Monika More (22), who suffered double amputation due to railway accident at Ghatkopar station in 2014, registered for transplant in September. The Kurla resident awaits a donor even as she uses prosthetic limbs. “We are trying to get funds from various organisations for surgery. The cost is Rs 25 lakh,” said Ashok More, Monika’s father, adding that he suffers from kidney ailment and his wife Kavita is undergoing psychiatric treatment after Monika’s accident.
Dr Gauri Rathod, former state coordinator for organ transplant, said, “It is easier to convince families of brain-dead patients to donate liver, kidney or heart, but losing a physical body part remains unacceptable. There is need for hospitals to counsel in order to ensure hand donations happen.”