by Vishnuprasad on  June 5, 2015 at 12:26 PM Health In Focus
Heart Transplant Recipient Wants to Give Back By Spreading the Word About Organ Donation
(This is third article in the three-part exclusive series on Organ Donation by Medindia)

Hvovi Minocherhomji, a 21-year-old from Mumbai, underwent a heart transplant in Chennai last year. She was given barely six months to live before the transplant but now, a year later, Minocherhomji is a commerce graduate who leads a normal life. She is absolutely fine and enjoys her favorite roller-coaster rides and even takes the stairs in a four-storey building without any problem.

Now, she wants to give back and advocate the cause of cadaver organ donation. "I want to create awareness among people on organ donation. I think my story will inspire people," said Minocherhomji.

In pursuit of her goal, Minocherhomji took part in an Organ Donation Coordinators' Training Program held in Chennai last month. It was organized by MOHAN Foundation, an NGO that has been working in the field of cadaver organ donation for the past 18 years.

"This program teaches the lifesaving importance of organ donation. Faculty members have real experience with organ donors and recipients. We were 40 students and the program was really inspiring. Now, I'm confident that I can inspire people into donating their organs," added Minocherhomji.

As a heart transplant recipient, Minocherhomji cannot work with hospitals, as she is at increased risk of infections. That doesn't seem to slow her down though. "I can work outside hospitals with NGOs in the field of organ donation," said a determined Minocherhomji.

Minocherhomji had Dilated Cardiomyopathy

Four years ago, Minocherhomji was diagnosed with dilated cardiomyopathy. It is a condition in which the heart becomes enlarged and weak, and affects the supply of blood to the lungs, liver and other organs.

"I was unable to eat, breathe or even change my clothes without help. I rarely stepped out of my room," she recalled.

In 2014, Dr. Brian Pinto, a cardiologist in Mumbai, confirmed that Minocherhomji would no longer be able to continue with artificial pacemakers or drugs. Dr. Pinto suggested the final option: a heart transplant.

No Donor in Mumbai

In 1994, the Indian government passed the Transplantation of Human Organs Act, legalizing transplants of all harvestable organs from donors after they were verified brain dead. The act also made the commercial organ trade illegal in the country.

The Maharashtra Health Services Department reveals that seven hospitals in the city were granted permission to carry out heart transplantation 18 years ago. A few acclaimed transplantations were conducted straight away in Maharashtra after the legislation. But since then, the state has hardly performed heart transplants.

Healthcare professionals are of the opinion that it is the unavailability of donors that is the cause for delay in conducting transplantations. Sadly, according to the Health Department of Maharashtra, 68 organs were retrieved from 29 multi-organ donors in 2012 from the state.

Destination Chennai for Transplantation

Meanwhile, Minocherhomji's condition continued to deteriorate. Her parents — Aspy and Amaity, were desperate to save their only daughter. Aspy, a former merchant navy sailor and Amaity, a former banker, who did extensive research in organ donation, found that the UK and USA had a stronger donor registry and a long history of doing heart transplants.

But the cost of transplant and subsequent expenses thereafter were a strong deterrent. It would have cost an alarming £500,000 or $625,000 and they would have had to wait for at least two years to be eligible for a transplant. Their daughter did not have that time.

Out of desperation, they approached Dr. Pinto for an alternative. He recommended Minocherhomji's case to Dr. K.R. Balakrishnan at Fortis Malar Hospital, Chennai. Till then, the family was not aware that Tamil Nadu had the highest organ donor rate in the country with 1.15 donors for every million and ten times more organ transplants than any other state.

Her parents realized that heart transplant in Chennai was a comparatively affordable option - around Rs 20-30 lakh. One disadvantage was that Minocherhomji would have to be on immuno-suppressants all her life.

By the end of May, the family came to Chennai and managed to get their daughter's name listed in the Tamil Nadu waitlist for donor hearts.

Chennai Traffic Police Create 'Green Corridor'

It did not take long for Minocherhomji to get a heart in Chennai. On June 16, 2014, she got a donor, a 27-year-old victim of a road accident at Rajiv Gandhi Government General Hospital.

Fortis Malar Hospital is 12 km away from the Government General Hospital (GH). After harvesting the heart from the brain-dead donor, it had to be implanted within four hours.

Chennai Traffic Police created the green corridor for hassle-free transportation of the heart. A medical team transported the heart in an ambulance from GH to Fortis in less than 14 minutes. A traffic police vehicle escorted the ambulance and all traffic lights were turned green for this purpose.

Second Life for Hvovi

Now that Minocherhomji is alive and reasonably healthy for a transplant patient, her parents are ecstatic and cannot thank her stars enough!

"I got a second life. I thank God, the donor, the doctors and my family. Chennai my donor's family will always be a part of my life. Those doctors are still taking care of me with extra care and still giving me tremendous support," said Minocherhomji.

She opined that Maharashtra government should follow Tamil Nadu's lead in organ donation and transplant system. "The organ donation system here really works and has saved several lives. The system should be adopted by the Maharashtra government. In Mumbai, some organizations invited me to speak about organ donation. I want to start my mission with an awareness campaign in Mumbai," she said.

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