Indian Express – Kolkata News Online

3rd December 2006, Sunday
Back straight, head held high
NRI surgeon Ujjwal Debnath comes to his home town to perform spinal surgery free for the needy, finds our correspondent
Pragya Paramita

Sixty-year-old Nibha Rani Dey’s eyes light up when she spots the familiar figure making his way towards her bed. Standing next to her bed she pulls herself straight to hug the man and says ebar tumi a amar poribarer shodosho. Tomader shobar chobi diyo aami tangiye rakhbo. (Now you are a part of my family. I will put your photographs on the wall).

For Dey and many other patients of Shishu Mangal Hospital, Dr Ujjwal Debnath has been a familiar figure over the past few weeks, a figure that has given them a new lease of life.
Coming back to his hometown and performing surgeries for the needy was a dream that the doctor had cherished for a long time and it was a chance meeting with Dr Jeffery McConnell that made it possible. “When Dr McConnell had come down to Cardiff we became friends instantly and he told me his wish of performing spinal surgery free of cost in a third world country. That was when I decided that the best place to perform the surgeries would be in Kolkata,” says Debnath.

With the idea firmly in place the duo went on to set a trust that would fund the entire project. They also involved six other specialists in their projects who would be needed to monitor the patients and use the instruments.

And finally the team came down last month to the city to perform one of the most complicated and expensive surgeries to some of the neediest people in the country free of cost. There are few places in India where these surgeries can be carried out, and there is absolutely none in the eastern region of the country. These surgeries are so expensive not just here but also abroad that it is out of reach for most people, says Debnath.

“Kolkata was an automatic choice for me since I am from here, moreover I had worked for a few years in Shishu Mangal and knew the doctors there so we decided to come here and perform the surgeries. But coming here was a complicated task as they soon realised that they would have to bring down all the necessary instruments and also the specialists who could handle them,” Debnath said.

And finally the six-member team came down last month to perform the surgeries. The doctors also used a bone morphogenic protein, a substance that would help in the healing of the spinal cord, for the first time in India. One of the most expensive substances, it is used by few doctors abroad. “We realised that we would have to use the substance for speedy recovery of the patients,” he said.

For Dey and other patients like 18-year-old Srimanto Mandal and 35-year-old Minoti Sarkar and others Debnath and his teams have been nothing short of miracle workers. While earlier their defects made it impossible for them to stand or even walk for long now they can dream of leading a normal life. Debnath and his team may have gone back for the time being but not for long as Debnath will be back in a few months to check up on his patients.

“Moreover, we are hoping to conduct this camp once again. And we have a long-term project of setting up a full-scale specialty unit here where, local doctors can carry out these surgeries free for the needy. Till then however the team of doctors will be back again and again to help some of those who are too weak to even help themselves,” he said.

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