“Last year, a nurse called me after her husband was declared brain dead at a hospital in Cuttack and expressed her desire to donate all her husband’s organs and body. We talked to the authorities of Apollo hospital and SCB Medical College and Hospital, who refused to make the necessary arrangements in the absence of any government provision for organ donation. Going by the rules, a test named apnea has to be done after a person is declared brain dead. After the test is done and it is assured that the deceased is brain dead, his organs can be retrieved and donated. But there is no instruction yet from the Odisha government to perform apnea test on brain-dead persons, which is why cadaveric transplantation is yet to start in the state. Such is the scenario of organ donation in Odisha where the government has done nearly nothing to facilitate the system. We have not performed a single organ transplantation whereas Kerala tops the country in organ donation. The story of organ donation in the country is one of extremes. While, on the one hand, southern states lead the pack, routinely carrying out organ donations, northeastern states are yet to make a mark,” says the convener of Body and Organ Donation Initiative (BODI) Pravas Acharya, who is holding organ donation awareness camps for people across the length and breadth of the state, in colleges, hostels, schools, offices and clubs.
According to Pravas, the need for organ donors has never been greater. “More than half a million Indians are estimated to be in dire need of an organ transplant. When compared to the rest of the world, India languishes at the bottom of the list. While Spain records the highest — 36 organ donations per million population — India’s number has now come close to one, after hovering around 0.5 for years. For a country with over 1.3 billion people, the number of organ donations taking place is abysmally low. When it comes to Odisha, organ and body donation is at a nascent stage. In the face of the lack of awareness among people about organ donation, hundreds of people are dying in Odisha. If we can donate our body parts to give a new lease of life to others, then it’s certainly a noble cause we are doing even after death. It is meaningless to accelerate the campaign on organ donation in Odisha if the government does not start cadaveric transplantation and make the process easier for donors and receivers. Many kith and kin of the deceased approach us for organ donation, but we do only cornea transplantation which does not come under organ donation as cornea is a tissue.”
Pravas narrates an incident which reveals the stark reality about organ donation awareness. “I was engrossed in reading a letter from a poor man seeking my assistance when someone knocked on my door. I invited the gentleman in. He was a professor who had taken the forms for organ and body donation months back. Before I asked about his wellbeing, he returned the set of forms that he had taken saying, ‘Dr Acharya, I failed to keep my commitment. I have three daughters and they are well settled. One is in USA, the second one is in Bangalore while the youngest one resides in Bhubaneswar. They have stopped talking to me after they came to know from their mother that I have pledged to donate my body.’ I could sense his discomfort and disappointment and took the form back. His three daughters are highly educated but they reacted badly after they learnt about their father’s decision to donate his body. If highly educated people think on these lines, it will be difficult to convince illiterate people. It is surprising to find that people without much knowledge on organ donation are coming forward for the cause. Most importantly, among the people who want to opt for body and organ donation, the number of homemakers is much more compared to men.”
Pravas launched BODI in 2013 after taking voluntary retirement from the Railways. “When my son was pursuing MBBS in MKCG Medical College and Hospital, he used to explain the difficulties faced by medicos. A group of 35 medical students were given one body to dissect. Many medical colleges in the state have a unique problem: acute shortage of cadavers. The demand is up and donors are down. Anatomy is fundamental to MBBS education,” stresses Pravas, adding that learning to dissect cadavers goes a long way in helping students understand how the body functions. But due to the shortage of cadavers, they rarely get a chance to dissect. Whenever a donor dies, and his body is taken to medical colleges, the way it is received gives a feeling that the donor is benefitted by such donation not the medical colleges. That was when I thought of launching BODI. Since the inception of BODI, its 1,000-odd volunteers are trying their best to make people understand that nothing is more beautiful than a dead person giving life to others.”
In Odisha, nearly 5,000 people die in accidents every year. But cadaver donation is nil in the state. On January 30, 2017, the Guinness World Record was broken by BODI by signing the maximum number of pledges for organ donation in an hour. Under the aegis of BODI, around 10,000 students from various educational institutes across the state pledged to donate their organs in an attempt to create a world record. Students gathered on their respective campuses at Utkal University, Ravenshaw University, Sambalpur University, Berhampur University, Fakir Mohan University in Balasore, Gangadhar Meher University in Sambalpur and Centurion University to sign up for organ donation.
“A pledge to donate organs allows doctors to remove healthy and transplantable organs and tissues, either after death or while the donor is alive, and transplant them into another person who requires one. Common transplants include kidney, heart, liver, pancreas, intestines, lungs, bones, bone marrow, skin and cornea. That’s why, BODI floated the idea of gathering a record number of pledges,” says Pravas, adding, “I am grateful to the vice chancellor of Utkal University Ashok Das who issued a circular to colleges affiliated to the University to hold seminars on the issue and create awareness among students. It helped me build a rapport with students and make them understand the necessity of organ donation today. I am overwhelmed seeing the response of students. They not only took a pledge on body and organ donations, they also joined BODI to speed up the campaign across the state.”
Campaigning for organ donation has not been without problems. Pravas says, “I got threatening calls for encouraging people to take the pledge for body and organ donation many times because people here are very orthodox. I must share the story of a former engineer of Cuttack Municipal Corporation. He came to me and expressed his desire to donate his organs and body. He filled up the forms and returned home. After his grandson came to know about it, he literally threatened me with dire consequences. He told me, ‘You are doing a notorious work. I will file a complaint against you at the police station. You have influenced my grandfather and forced him to pledge for body donation.’ I asked him to come for a discussion. When he came, my first question to him was, ‘Do you really love your grandfather.’ And he said, ‘Yes, I do.” Then I said if you really love your grandfather, you must love what he loves. He was finally convinced after having a long discussion. I invited him to attend our annual function with his grandfather and other family members where we felicitate the persons who have pledged for donation.”
In another incident, Pravas was not allowed to take the body of a Mahanga-based retired teacher who had earlier pledged to donate his body. “The teacher was leading a lonely life after the death of his wife. His children were based in other states. When he died, a few fellow villagers informed us so that we could take the body. When we reached the venue, his youngest son raised objections and shouted at us. But when a few villagers convinced him that it was his father’s wish, he allowed us to take the body.”
Pinky Sahu, a volunteer of BODI, says, “I was pursuing a master’s degree in journalism and mass communication when Pravas Sir was invited to our department to give a talk on organ donation. I was so influenced by his lecture that on the spot I decided to donate my body and organs. That apart, I decided to be part of BODI. Over the last five years, the movement has got a big boost. People in Puri, Bhubaneswar, Balasore and Cuttack are far more aware, less fearful and less sceptical about the idea. This may be hard to believe but many people are spontaneously opting for organ and body donation. We not only encourage people to join up for body and organ donation, we felicitate those who have agreed to be donors at a function every year. We do so to make them realise that what they have done is not everyone’s cup of tea. We felicitate the donors and their families with Dadhichi Samman. Our organisation is a not-for-profit organisation that promotes organ donation and transplantation in Odisha since 2013. So far, we have donated 35 corneas for transplantation.”
She adds: “Many states have successfully emulated Kerala’s road map and have developed organ donation programmes of their own. The uptake of the concept of organ donation, however, has been disappointing in Odisha. This has led to a steady stream of patients from the state travelling to the south seeking an organ donor as their chance of getting a timely transplant in their own state is close to zero.”
What they say
Bibhukalyan Sahoo, a Class X student lost his father on May 25, 2018. He says, “My father had decided to donate his body and organs to BODI after his death so that his organ parts can be used for a noble cause. After he died of brain stroke, I informed the BODI members to take away the body of my father. A team of technicians removed the cornea before handing over the body to SCB Medical College and Hospital authorities. Though some of our relatives were against it at first, they gave their consent after they learnt that my father wanted it. We took samples of hair and nail to perform the last rites of my father.”
Mayank Pani, son of journalist Ratan Pani says, “My father pledged to donate his body September 9, 2013 after my mother and I gave him approval to do so. He died May 22, 2018 following a cardiac arrest. After his death, we contacted Utsarga (a voluntary organisation that has been doing this yeoman service since 1984) to hand over the body. They coordinated everything. The eyes were collected within five hours of his death and later on we handed over the body to the anatomy department of Burla Medical College and Hospital for the purpose of medical research. He had left behind a letter mentioning how all the rites and rituals were to be performed after his death. On September 9, 2018 we were felicitated by Utsarga for our cooperation in donating my father’s body. A foundation named Jyoti felicitated me because my father donated his eyes. I have made up my mind to pledge my body. But because of my mother’s present emotional and mental state, I have postponed the decision for now. However, I will do it anyway.”
Snehalata Pati, a homemaker of Bhadrak, says, “After my husband’s death, I was not in a condition to decide anything. It was my brothers who decided to donate my husband’s cornea to a blind person. After donating the cornea, his body was brought home and we performed his last rites. When I learnt about it a few days after his death, I felt happy about it.”
Rajlaxmi Kar, a homemaker, says, “I have pledged to donate my body and organs. If my organs can bring a smile on the face of any person, I will feel I have done something in my life.”
RASHMI REKHA DAS,OP