THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: The first heart donor of Kottayam, Suneesh Kumar, was called ‘Chakkara’ when he was alive. That was the name his mother wanted him to be remembered by, when he gave a consent to organ donation. His heart was harvested in Manoj Kumar and the latter went on to complete a marathon.
Dr Rajesh M Ramankutty, the person who twined the two lives together through the transplant, has many such stories to share. His career spans 15 years and more than 4,000 cardiac surgeries. But those are not 4,000 hazy faces. “I remember at least 80 per cent of them by name, 90 per cent by their face,” he says. He remembers conversations with them, during which they would trade details - hobbies, favourite people, nagging problems. “It is stress due to other problems in their lives which would often precipitate a heart attack. After the surgery, most times, the other problems would have also got resolved. Their happiness would have doubled,” he says.
They would visit him after, to say thank you. “In Kottayam, they would kiss my hands. It is a common gesture among Christians to kiss the episcopal ring. I feel they are equating me with the Bishop. It is a humbling experience,” he says.
Kottayam is where he works now as the chief heart transplant and minimal access cardiac surgeon of Caritas Heart Institute. Every weekend, he visits his family in Thiruvananthapuram. He completed his MBBS from the Government Medical College Hospital here.
He did advanced studies at PGIMER Chandigarh, AIIMS Delhi and Cleveland Clinic, USA. There is a difference between organ donation drives in the US and India, he says.
“Abroad, the donor’s details are kept a secret. But making the donors known is probably relevant in India, as it will help push the organ donation programme. We are a society where the ties between people matter. The donor’s story will give an impetus to the programme here,” he says.
Of the surgeries he performed, close to 1,000 happened in the past three years in Kottayam. The numbers are hardly flattering for the health condition of the city. “Heart problems are on the rise and it is a pan-Kerala phenomenon,” he says.