When Mumbai Police constable Ravita Gavit saw her eight-year-old namesake Ravita Valvi from Nandurbar being carried on the road by her parents in a makeshift stretcher improvised from cloth and bamboo poles, she decided to help. The parents had travelled 467 km to bring the girl to Mumbai for treatment.
They were having a tough time communicating in Mumbai, as they spoke only the tribal Bhili. Being from Nandurbar herself, Gavit spoke Bhili and learnt of the family’s plight. It also brought back memories of Gavit’s two-year-old nephew Kundan who had succumbed to a heart disease. In 2011, before she was posted in Mumbai, Gavit had brought Kundan from Nandurbar to Mumbai’s KEM Hospital but had to return without treatment after waiting for 15 days.
With Gavit’s help, the girl was finally admitted to Gokuldas Tejpal (GT) Hospital. “Had she not helped us, we would have returned to our village without treating our daughter,” says Shanti Valvi, the mother of Ravita. The girl underwent a spine surgery last week at GT Hospital and has started physiotherapy. She is attempting to sit up.
On September 29, Ravita had fallen 10 feet from a tree in Nandurbar’s Khadkya village and broken her spine. The paraplegic girl was taken to five government hospitals, from Nandurbar to Mumbai, but doctors kept referring her from one hospital to the other.
Constable Gavit, 29, attached with Azad Maidan police station, spotted Ravita’s parents carrying her near the Gateway of India in the morning of October 18.
“They thought their village was beyond the sea and were looking for a means to go home. They had never been to a city,” says Gavit.
The family has never stepped beyond Nandurbar, the northern tribal district of Maharashtra. In Mumbai, communication problems had apparently thwarted their attempt to get the girl treated at KEM. They had then walked from Parel to the Gateway of India for five hours, carrying Ravita, when Gavit spotted them. She says the child had soiled her stretcher.
With Gavit’s help, the girl was taken to St George Hospital, where they had to wait for four hours. The hospital referred them to GT Hospital but did not provide an ambulance. Gavit hailed a taxi and lifted Ravita into the vehicle to take her to GT Hospital. “Whenever I see a Nandurbar patient in Mumbai, I remember my nephew,” she says.
In 2011, her nephew Kundan was taken to a government doctor in their village Visarwadi, in Nandurbar, and later to a private hospital for treatment of a congenital heart disease. When he turned two and doctors in Nandurbar could not perform a surgery, Gavit brought him to KEM Hospital.
“For 15 days, his diagnostic tests and surgery were delayed because of the waiting period. It was monsoon. The water had reached till our waist on the footpath. I only ate a vadapav each day,” Gavit recalls.
Because of the huge delay in treatment, she returned to Visarwadi after two weeks. Two months later, Kundan died. In 2012, Gavit was posted as a police constable in Mumbai.
After Ravita’s admission, she brought lunch for the family for a week. She took Ravita’s father Rajya to her home in Ambivali to bathe and shave. “The hospital guard would not let him enter thinking he is a beggar,” Gavit said.
She also called the Khadkya sarpanch to inform about the Valvi family. The sarpanch told her that they were about to file a missing complaint since the Valvis were not reachable since a month.
In the past, Gavit had helped another Nandurbar girl get admitted to KEM hospital. “But she didn’t survive,” she says.
Gavit knows Bhili and along with the staff nurse, has been helping the parents communicate with the doctors.
“In Nandurbar, health facilities are very poor. I remember there was no sonography in the government or private hospital in 2010. We had to go to Surat,” she says. Most tribal patients only go as far as Nandurbar civil hospital and return home if no treatment is provided.
According to orthopedic surgeon Dr Shravan Singh, “Ravita is lucky to have undergone surgery. We see patients who reach too late and die.”
JJ Hospital, KEM, Sion and Nair hospitals receive the maximum number of patients from rural and tribal regions of the state, he said.
He added that Ravita will undergo physiotherapy for a few weeks before getting discharged.
“We hope her bowel sensations will return. But there is little hope for sensation in the lower half of her body to return. She has not even moved her toe since admission,” Singh said.
In the surgery conducted last week, doctors inserted a rod to support Ravita’s fractured spine. “If she could, she would have got up and run away to the village to play. She cannot go beyond our angan (verandah) now,” her mother Shanti says.