NEW DELHI: People hardly know him by his real name in Bihar, but one mention of the 'oxygen man' and he is instantly recognised as the life-saver for critically ill COVID-19 patients in times of severe shortage of oxygen supply.
The man on a mission, Patna-resident Gaurav Rai, has helped save the lives of over 1,100 patients in home isolation in the state capital and other parts of Bihar so far by providing oxygen cylinders free of cost.
"In the current spell of the second wave, 365 oxygen cylinders have been provided to those in extreme need of these in Patna itself," he told PTI in an interview.
At a time when hospitals are turning away COVID-19 patients due to shortage of beds and oxygen cyclinders, Rai has come across as an 'angel' for the distressed, said several patients who have got a new lease of life owing to his efforts.
Rai, 52, who works in a private company engaged in the manufacture of high-security number plates for cars in Patna, and his wife Aruna Bhardwaj, operate an 'oxygen bank' with more than 250 cylinders of 10 kg each.
With tears in his eyes, Rai said the idea came to him after he fell prey to the deadly virus in July last year.
"I was admitted to the Patna Medical College and Hospital (PMCH), where I witnessed the dismal condition of Covid patients in dire need of oxygen cylinders.
"I just ran home and told my wife if god makes me survive, I will do something for mankind. I was cured in a few days and it seemed that the almighty indeed chose this task for me," he said.
Setting aside a portion of his salary, and with financial help from his wife and a few close friends, Rai began with just three medical oxygen cylinders at the end of July 2020, and then increased the stock to 54.
Help also came from the Bihar Foundation, which donated 200 oxygen cylinders, Rai said.
Bihar Foundation is an independent body formed by the Department of Industries in 2010, which seeks to reach out to non-resident Biharis.
"Since the outbreak of the pandemic in March 2020, we have provided cylinders to a total of 1,103 patients in Patna and other parts of the state," he said.
The oxygen bank extends services in Patna, Buxar, Bhagalpur, Siwan, Gopalganj, Gaya, Arwal, Motihari, Jehanabad, Hajipur, Nalanda, Begusarai and Madhepura, among other districts.
The day starts at 5 am for the 'oxygen man' who transports the cylinders in his own car to serious COVID-19 patients.
He also demonstrates its operations to their family members.
"However, the demand for cylinders has skyrocketed now, and I request the family members of patients to collect these from my residence at Shri Krishna Nagar.
Subsequently, we send a video on how to operate to the recipients," Rai said.
"I insist on doctors' prescriptions to ensure that oxygen cylinders are first given to those who are in most need of these," he said, adding, there have been some instances of misuse by not returning the cylinders or causing damage to its parts.
Rai said he gets the empty cylinders filled from a benevolent "Kumar Enterprises" located in Patna for a modest Rs 100 each.
"Our oxygen bank provides cylinders free of cost.
I spend Rs 20,000 of my salary and also a share of my wife's earnings for the purpose," he said.
When contacted, most beneficiaries couldn't thank him enough for his service to mankind.
"I see him as a 'devdoot' carrying 'sanjeevani' (cylinder) for my coronavirus-infected father," Pawan Singh, a resident of Purandarpur in Patna, said.
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Ashish Kumar, who works in Pune, said Rai was nothing less than an angel who saved his father's life in December last year through timely intervention.
Young girls Sakshi Raj and Neha Sharma, who had contacted Rai after getting to know about him on Facebook and radio, described him as a super human.
"Gaurav uncle is no ordinary man; we consider him as a representative of god.
He is still in touch with us," they said.