Ithika, her family and Dr. Vijay at our partner hospital in Coimbatore, before Ithika was discharged
This extraordinary story highlights the collaboration between two of our partner hospitals in India under difficult circumstances, in order to save the life of a child with heart disease.
As India went into full lockdown to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus, the life of a baby girl named Ithika was at risk. Born with a heart defect, 2-month-old Ithika needed emergency surgery at precisely the moment when the challenges facing hospitals and the challenges of travel restrictions collided.
Dr. Mani Ram Krishna describes this story as one of the most gratifying of his life. He works as an interventional cardiologist and a pediatric electrophysiologist at our Center of Excellence Amrita Institute of Medical Sciences in Kochi.
Ithika was born in January. When she was born, her parents, from the southern state of Tamil Nadu, had no idea that their baby had a heart defect. Then a few weeks after her birth, her mother noticed that Ithika was unable to eat enough and had difficulty breathing. At this point baby Ithika was admitted to the hospital in their hometown of Thanjavur.
While Ithika was being treated for a respiratory infection, the world was changing seemingly overnight. On March 24th the 1.3 billion people of India were ordered to begin a 21-day lockdown in an effort to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus.
Ithika’s pediatrician was worried. Ithika was not responding to the treatment for the respiratory infection. He called Dr. Mani Ram, who conducts regular cardiac outreach clinics in Thanjavur. Fortunately for Ithika, Dr. Mani Ram was in the city at the time.
Dr. Mani Ram diagnosed Ithika with a heart defect that could be deadly if not treated right away. He wanted to refer Ithika to his hospital in the neighboring state of Kerala, but the lockdown was preventing travel between states. At this point he contacted Children’s HeartLink, and we connected him to Dr. Raju Vijayakumar (Dr. Vijay), a pediatric cardiac surgeon at our partner hospital G. Kuppuswamy Naidu Memorial (GKNM) Hospital. The hospital is located in Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu, the state where Ithika’s family lives, although 150 miles away from their hometown.
Emergency surgery and recovery
Dr. Mani Ram and the staff at his hospital tried desperately to find an ambulance to transport the baby girl and her parents. Most ambulance operators feared getting stuck out of town for more than a week and refused an inter-district transport. They finally found an ambulance service that agreed to transport the child, and Ithika reached Coimbatore shortly before midnight on the 24th of March.
The next challenge was funding the surgery, at a time when most available resources in the country are being directed toward fighting the pandemic. The family could not afford to pay for the surgery themselves.
Dr. Vijay was able to arrange funding and performed emergency heart surgery on the very next day, March 25th. Ithika spent less than a week in the hospital and is now home with her family and doing well, providing a happy ending to a remarkable story of heroism in the face of great challenges.