Sandipa Biswas (right) and Kaushik Hazra at BM Birla Heart Research Centre. Picture by Sanjoy Ghosh
A four-year-old girl who ran slower than her friends because of holes in her heart that her parents did not know of walked out of a hospital in Calcutta smiling on Wednesday.
She was the first beneficiary of a Mamata Banerjee promise to provide free treatment to children who need heart surgeries, irrespective of how rich or poor the parents are.
Sandipa Biswas of Jorabagan had the surgery to fix two holes in the top chamber of her heart on September 4. Doctors said she has recovered pretty fast and would be able to return to school in a fortnight. Probably she would catch up with her classmates in races in the future.
The government has tied up with three private hospitals — BM Birla Heart Research Centre and RN Tagore Institute of Cardiac Sciences in Calcutta and Mission Hospital in Durgapur — for the free-surgery scheme.
“Sandipa is an active child but it was heart-rending to see her suffer from breathlessness. She would start perspiring at the least of exertions. It was only after medical tests were conducted on all the students in her school that we came to know she had holes in the heart,” mother Purnima said.
The Bengal government has taken the tests in state-run schools, conducted under the Rashtriya Bal Swasthya Karyakram of the Centre, to their logical conclusion: treatment. It decided to foot the bill of any student needing surgery for cardiac ailments.
Purnima and her husband Ujjwal, a daily labourer who earns Rs 3,500 a month, did not have to worry about the costs of surgery and medicines when the school authorities told them about Sandipa’s heart. They were also informed that the operation would be conducted at BM Birla Heart Research Centre.
The cost: normally around Rs 2 lakh at the hospital. Under the Shishu Sathi scheme, the hospital charged about Rs 90,000. The government paid the entire amount.
Sandipa is not the only child to have benefited from the scheme. Four other children with cardiac complications have been operated upon so far. One of them is eight-year-old Kaushik Hazra of Tollygunge.
Kaushik, whose father Kanai is a taxi driver and earns Rs 4,500 a month, had a hole in the division between the two lower chambers of his heart and a block in the right ventricular outflow track, which supplies blood to the lungs.
His parents knew about the hole since he was a month old but did not have the money for the corrective surgery.
“It’s a dream come true that renowned doctors in a private hospital treated my boy and conducted the surgery. We did not spend a rupee,” Kaushik’s mother Jhuma said.
“Screening at various schools in the 341 blocks of Bengal have thrown up 800 cases where cardiac surgery is required. We have set a target to have all these cases operated this year itself. The greater challenge is to reach children who don’t go to school,” said Biswaranjan Satpathy, the director of health services.
Surgeries for ailments like congenital cataract, cleft lips and cleft palates would soon be brought under the Shishu Sathi scheme, he added.
“The project is close to the chief minister’s heart. We have a guarantee that funds would not stand in the way,” Satpathy said.