A 16-year-old boy whose brain damage at birth has turned him into a virtual vegetable has finally won compensation from the doctors his parents hold guilty, but that is of little use to him.
The National Consumer Dispute Redressal (NCDR) forum has ordered the Cosmopolitan Hospital here and two doctors to pay Rs.1.1 million ($24,300) to the parents of Chakkara alias Naveen Thomas, holding them responsible for medical negligence. The money was given away last month.
But Chakkara doesn't know anything about it. He keeps crying, now and then, and constantly falls down as he tries to walk within his house.
The boy's -- and his parents' -- trauma began Dec 13, 1989. What was to be a landmark day for Shibhu Thomas (now 44) and Geetha George (now 38) turned out to be a devastating moment from which they never recovered.
Geetha's expected date of delivery, of their first child, was Dec 6, 1989. Their gynecologist told them that all was fine and the baby would be born a few days later.
Shibhu Thomas told IANS: "On the 11th pain was induced. The first mistake took place when the senior gynecologist did not do an immediate caesarian... Geetha was left alone.
"Two days later, by noon Geetha delivered Chakkara, little realizing that his days of misery were to begin."
For three days the newborn did not cry nor did he suck milk. And Thomas felt the doctors were not responding adequately to his and his wife's misery.
"I felt it was getting out of hand. I asked for the case sheet. After a while I grabbed the case sheet and the hospital referred my baby to the Government Medical College Hospital. After a lot of checkups we were told that my son's brain cells have been damaged because of breath asphyxia caused due to the delay in delivery," said Thomas, a bank manager.
After 45 days at the government hospital, Thomas and Geetha returned with their baby, knowing well that he would be mentally retarded, because of the negligence of the doctor.
Geetha's father, T.C. George, a retired deputy accountant general, decided to seek justice for his grandson.
"We approached the State Consumer Redressal Forum in 1991 saying this was a clear case of medical negligence and demanded a compensation of Rs.450,000," the father said.
In 1995, the family got a shock when the forum ruled that the hospital and doctors had done no wrong. The family then went to NCDR and in 1997 the appeal was accepted.
Then began a series of hearings. On May 18, Justice M.P. Shah ruled that the doctor had failed to take into account the warning signals and take steps for a caesarian to avoid birth asphyxia.
"The helplessness, suffering and mental agony of the parents in bringing up this child cannot be sufficiently compensated considering the permanent disability of the child. We can say that the compensation is on the lower side," reads Shah's judgment.
Soon after, the hospital paid Rs.1.1 million (Rs.450,000 plus 10 percent interest from the date of filing the complaint) to the parents.
"Mistakes can happen to anyone. The doctor's profession is the noblest. But if they had acted on time, would my Chakkara be like this?" asks Geetha, who has resigned her job as a lecturer to be with Chakkara.
Today, Chakkara has two younger brothers -- George (13) and Jacob (6), for whom their elder brother is the dearest.
"Every day we pray for Chakkara. God would surely perform a miracle," says one of the brothers.
The first miracle, according to Joseph, is that all these years Chakkara used to have no control over his urine. Now he cries when it is time for him to pass urine, and he is taken to the toilet.
Every member of the family is attached to the boy and sleep with him at night.
Thomas says with the verdict, the judicial fight is over.
"You don't know the mental agony all of us had to undergo because he is seen as a mentally retarded child and not as a child who became mentally retarded because of medical negligence. We are thankful to god that the truth has come out and our prayers are that none should ever undergo what we underwent," said Thomas.
Chakkara's happiest event is a drive in his father's car. He is on anti-convulsion drugs and other medicines worth Rs.4,000 a month.
Speaking to IANS, V. Balagopal, chief executive officer of the Cosmopolitan hospital, said: "We do a lot of good things but that is not news. We know when man bites dog it is news. Anyway we have settled the issue."