This is a personal “From the Field” story by Direct Relief Employee Mat Maccalla.
The opening ceremony for Bidada Hospital’s 33rd medical and surgical camp was held on January 3, 2007. I arrived at the facility the following day, and the medical screenings, consultations, and pre-operative services were already in full swing. The hospital is administered by the Shree Bidada Sarvodaya Trust, and has been providing quality healthcare services to the people of Kutch, in the state of Gujarat , for decades. Their annual medical and surgical camp, held during the first three weeks of January, treats thousands of patients who have no other access to specialty services. In 2006, the camp provided examinations and treatment to 28,284 people, and conducted 1,173 surgical procedures, all free of cost.
This was my second visit to Bidada Hospital, a facility that Direct Relief has been supporting ever since the devastating Gujarat earthquake that occurred in 2001. The hospital, one of the only health facilities that wasn’t damaged or destroyed in the quake, treated thousands of earthquake survivors and still handles an increased patient load as many of the pre-existing medical facilities were never rebuilt. Direct Relief provided multiple earthquake-related emergency shipments to the facility, and subsequently decided to continue our support of the hospital by supplying medical goods for their on-going services and medical camps.
The district of Kutch has a population of approximately 1.6 million people and is home to many different nomadic and semi-nomadic tribal populations. The area’s ethnic diversity is very apparent at Bidada Hospital, with men sporting turbans of various colors and women with tattooed necks wearing fabrics and jewelry representing their respective tribes. A total of 35 medical specialties were being offered at this year’s camp with urology, diabetes, endocrinology, ENT, speech and audiology, cardiac, pediatric ophthalmology, and general surgery services all scheduled for the first week. Healthcare professionals from the U.S., Canada, and other areas in India volunteer their services during the camp with many coming year after year. Dr. Manibhai Mehta, an Indian-American urologist who resides in Southern California, comes to the camp each year to help with the urology consultations and surgeries.
Due to the mineral content of the local water, there is a very high incidence of kidney and bladder stones and many people live with excruciating pain for weeks, months, and even years before getting treatment. During the first three days of the camp, Dr. Mehta, along with three other urologists and a radiologist, examined over 200 patients and performed more than 50 surgical procedures, many involving the removal of 15 or more large stones. When I visited some of the patients in recovery, they expressed their heartfelt gratitude to the hospital, the physicians, and to Direct Relief which had donated many of the surgical instruments, catheters, and medical supplies needed for the procedures.
I also had the opportunity to observe the second day of cardiac screenings when approximately 50 patients are selected to travel to Mumbai to receive surgical procedures. The most common heart problems requiring surgery include congenital heart defects for children and valve replacement for adults. One woman who was examined by one of the volunteer cardiac surgeons was informed that, due to rheumatic heart disease, she needed to have valve replacement surgery. Hospital officials explained to her that all of her costs would be covered, someone would be available to take care of her during her stay in Mumbai, and that she would receive a free lifetime supply of medication. She was scared and overwhelmed by the diagnosis and need for surgery, and said she needed time to decide if she was willing to take advantage of this generous but frightening offer. I then watched the examination of a young boy who needed surgery to fix a hole in his heart. His family had traveled over 100 kilometers to reach the camp, and they were overjoyed that the boy would receive this lifesaving opportunity free of charge.
It was great to see Direct Relief-donated medications, supplies, and equipment items being used at the camp, and many of the hospital administrators and volunteer physicians conveyed their appreciation. They also asked if it was too soon to submit a new list of needed items for 2008. I assured them that Direct Relief was honored to work with such a first-rate institution, and that we would do our very best to support their efforts in the future.