How donor hearts gave life to Anwar, Lavanya and Mitesh

Badlapur has perhaps the greatest history of change in Maharashtra. Anwar Khan, 30, who made history as the state’s first heart transplant patient, is now a computer repairman and has a supportive partner in Rumaana, whom he married six months ago. His prayers go out to the 42-year-old brain-dead Pune woman who had a heart transplant six years ago in Mumbai.

“I’m doing well and keeping up with the routine exercises along with taking the appropriate medication,” he says. It took a viral infection to recognize his condition. “I developed symptoms of shortness of breath that persisted after the fever. A 2D echo test showed my heart wasn’t working as well as it should. The ejection fraction was around 35 percent, which meant I was at high risk for heart failure. I was very afraid of the future. My father has a small business dealing in scrap metal and I thought about the cost we would have to bear if we had an operation,” says Anwar.

Doctors advised him to meet with surgeons at Fortis Hospital in Mumbai, where he was diagnosed with cardiomyopathy, or poor pumping capacity. He didn’t have to wait long for a healthy donor heart, as the parameters matched those of a brain-dead patient from Pune whose relatives had agreed to donate an organ.

dr Sanjeev Jadhav, who was involved in the successful heart harvest at Pune’s Jehangir Hospital, and Dr. Anvay Mulay, who performed the transplant at Fortis Hospital in Mumbai, gave new life to Anwar. After 22 days in intensive care, Anwar regained his strength by sticking to an appropriate diet that included home-cooked food and an exercise regimen. His medication is lifelong, and believing that he could maintain his heart health through a mindful lifestyle, Anwar graduated from college and took small jobs. “I had to drop out of my animation class for the first few months due to strict stay-at-home protocols for post-transplant patients.” However, he soon started hitting the gym and never missed hospital visits or filing 2D echo reports on all three Months.

Anwar and his family (parents, three brothers and one sister) have faced many challenges during the pandemic. While his parents began to persuade Anwar to get married and searched for a suitable partner, he admitted that he had not believed that this would become a reality. “It’s often not clear how long a person can survive after a heart transplant, and I wasn’t really optimistic that someone would want to marry me,” says Anwar. He was pleasantly surprised when Rumaana agreed. “She knew everything about me because we have known each other for a long time. She works in a pharmacy and we got married six months ago. Yes, I really have to keep pinching myself that this isn’t a dream,” he says.

dr Mulay, who is now Director of Advanced Cardiac Surgery and Heart Transplant at Sir HN Reliance Foundation Hospital in Mumbai, says: “I am delighted that so many patients are not only being given a second chance at life, but are making the most of that opportunity. It is the high risk and uniquely complicated nature of the cases that give us a sense of purpose and allow us to demonstrate the importance of an experienced multidisciplinary team approach combined with a determination to ensure patient-centred treatment and care. In addition, it increases hope for a future together by addressing the need for organ donation so that more people can benefit and live quality lives.” He recalls hanging banners at Mulund train station in 2015 to encourage organ donation. dr Since then, Mulay and his surgical team have performed more than 150 heart transplants, and 80 percent of the patients are alive and well. Some died during Covid and others for other reasons.

For 30-year-old Nanda, who lives in Dharavi, Mumbai, nothing is more enjoyable than watching her five-year-old daughter Lavanya play. Just a few months ago, the girl could barely walk. Eighteen-year-old Mitesh Dharve, a resident of Lonavala near Pune, now steps outside with confidence. Last year he was bedridden and a single step was like walking a mile for him. Both had weak hearts functional enough to keep them breathing. Then they found a second life with a heart transplant.

“I could never have imagined that Lavanya lives like other children. She was just three years old when doctors discovered a large hole in her heart,” says Lavanya’s mother, Nanda. With a transplant the only option left, Nanda, a single mother, had lost all hope. But Lavanya’s teacher helped Nanda and referred her to Sir HN Reliance Foundation Hospital where her child had her heart transplanted and received a full medical entitlement of over Rs 45 lakhs through a charity. “We waited three months and finally a donor was found in Indore,” she says.

For Mitesh, it was a very different journey. His entire childhood was jeopardized when a little exertion brought him to his knees and he needed to catch his breath. “By the time I turned 17, my heart was only working at 15 percent and it was like a slow death,” he said. But everything changed last year when he finally made up his mind and registered for a heart transplant. “When I got the call from a heart donor who was available in Pune, I quickly prepared for the surgery,” Mitesh said.

Since the cost of the transplant was 25 to 30 rupees, his father, a government employee, sold a piece of land in his hometown and arranged the remaining money through the help he received from the Tata Charity Foundation. Mitesh now wants to go back to school and dreams of going to college.

According to a report published by the National Center for Biotechnology Information, 20 to 30 percent of patients die while waiting for a donated heart. Cardiac surgeons say both availability and logistics for transplants are limited. The heart must be taken from a brain-dead person and transplanted within four hours. Obtaining the organ from the person with the same blood type, the high cost of the surgery, hesitance to donate the organ for religious reasons, and lack of awareness are some other limitations. Additionally, patients are often misled by the risks and postoperative complications associated with transplantation and choose to stay away. More awareness campaigns and living examples can change history.

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