CHENNAI: Though most rare and super-expensive surgeries are not covered under the Chief Minister’s Comprehensive Health Insurance Scheme, the State government stepped up and paid for implants that cost `18.25 lakh each, to restore hearing for two poor children, making it the most expensive surgery paid for by the government. This was done by creating a special corpus fund due to the extraordinary circumstances. In one of the most expensive surgeries done under the populist scheme, the children who were born with congenital hearing defects, needed Auditory Brainstem Implantation, “Of all the children with hearing defects, 99 per cent have problems with the inner ear. An implant will fix this. The other one per cent need more. The nerve that connects the inner ear to the nerve to the brain is not developed. The only way is to put an implant that connects the brain stem to the ear. It is one of the most complicated surgeries and takes five to six hours,” said Dr Mohan Kameswaran of the Madras ENT Research Foundation.
Compared to a normal cochlear implant, which is covered under the scheme, these cost almost `11 lakh more. “The implant alone costs about `17.5 lakh and so price has always been an issue. We have done 15 cases so far and most of them have been with the help of sponsors. Only Korea, France, Germany, USA. Italy, Turkey and India have done this surgery, so far,” Dr Mohan. “This is the first time in Asia that this surgery has been done with government funding,” he added.
When three-year-old Guhan hyperactively repeats the one word he knows appa, his young parents are unable to hold back their tears. “When we realised that he could not hear, we brought him to MERF. On checking they found that his problem was rare and that it needed the costly brainstem implant. “We were crestfallen and didn’t know what to do. So, we went to the government and asked someone. They asked us to submit an appeal to the CM. But nothing happened and we kept meeting the wrong people,” said T Ilayaraja, Guhan’s father and a farmer from Thanjavur. Finally, a year of constant worry later, finances were approved under the fund and the surgeons prepped to go into the operation room. It was almost the same for Beninal, who needed the same surgery and got it last week. As soon as that came in, the ENT and neuro surgical teams (led my Dr M C Vasudevan from VHS) swung into action. “Though we’ve done a few, every time we cut into the brain stem from behind the ear, our hearts are in our mouths. One wrong touch and the whole body would be paralysed,” he explained. The surgery was completed after seven hours and successful. “He has really improved a lot, but there are more children out there who require similar help,” said Kameswaran. The amount paid even includes a year of rehabilitation for the children, as they need to learn hearing, mimicking and reproducing sound through speech.