10/04/2017 - A Milestone of Success: St. Judes Welcomes Our 10,000th Admission

Alfan Nijamuddin Shaikh:Our 10,000th admission with his family and members of our team Alfan_St. Judes Team_Low Res

On 1st April 2006, The Rani Vicaji Centre at Mhaskar Hospital, Lower Parel opened without much fanfare but a lot of dreams. It was the first centre of St. Jude India Childcare Centres, named after the Founder's mother. It was started as a free home away from home for needy children under treatment for cancer and their parents, who had travelled from small town and rural India to Tata Memorial Hospital. This first centre was possible because of The Bombay Mother's and Children Welfare Society, that runs Mhaskar Hospital and had provided the much needed space. There are just eight family units and a learning area, common kitchen and toilets, a model that has been replicated over the past 11 years in 33 centres in 5 cities with 414 family units.

In 2005 Shyama and Nihal Kaviratne, recently retired from Unilever, had returned to India after twenty-two years and an illustrious career abroad. The desire to give back to society was great and after much thought they decided to fulfil an unmet need of providing a free home for needy patients travelling to Mumbai for treatment at Tata Memorial Hospital.A young team of likeminded professionals was put together to set up and run the centre. The initial funds came from the Kaviratnes, as did the guidelines of running a warm hearted NGO like a top notch corporate house.

The idea was to provide these children with everything that would give them a fighting chance to overcome the disease. Why children? The answer is simple- childhood cancers have an 85% cure rate with holistic support at complete treatment, again these are not lifestyle diseases like many adult cancers and of course children are our future.

Without a clean safe hygienic place to stay, nutritious food, these children would more likely than not be on the pavements outside the hospital, or an ill-maintained dharamshala, falling prey to secondary infection, without the nutritional support to withstand the chemotherapy or the disease and more than likely the families would have abandoned treatment and gone home. This would nullify all efforts of the doctors and resources of the hospitals, as abandonment of treatment will almost always lead to death.

The first eight children and their families were nurtured with great care. The systems were in place from the beginning and the support given increased with experience. In addition to the free place to stay, rations, transport to the hospital, education, recreation, skill development and counselling facilities are provided. Keeping records and track of the children was vital. Even today, when there are 414 family units, there is meticulous follow up of the children, their treatment and when they are expected to return for a follow up. The maxim is 'Once a St Judes'child, always a St. Judes'child' and everything is done to ensure timely and complete treatment is given.

This has meant that along with newly diagnosed children who are admitted to St Judes, there are always 'Returnees' who are assured place whenever they come. It is more than likely that without this assurance, the families would not come back when called by the hospital for follow up treatment or check-up. Who would, if faced with the alternative of living on the streets again? All records are carefully maintained and parents reminded to bring their children back when requested by the hospital.

Alfan Nijamuddin Shaikh, our 10,000th admission, was diagnosed with osteogenic sarcoma or OGS, a cancer of the bone. Undergoing treatment at Tata Memorial Hospital, fourteen year old Alfan first came to St. Judes in July 2016, from his home in Dharwad, Karnataka.

His father, a mechanic supports Alfan and his two sisters on a meager income of less than 6,000 rupees a month. When Alfan's diagnosis was confirmed, the family was in despair. Faced by the cost of treatment and residence in Mumbai, they were ready to give up on treatment and return to their hometown. Upon getting admission to St. Judes, the family began to see hope. In St. Judes they had found a peaceful haven where they could rest after a grueling day at the hospital and access the physical and emotional support they required.

As his treatment progressed Alfan underwent chemotherapy, with resilience and a smile on his face. A bright and enthusiastic child, he quickly made friends at the centre and took to reading in his free time. He participated eagerly in the activities at our centre and showed a distinct interest in learning new things, one of the skills he grasped was how to operate computers. His parents eased into St. Judes, and soon became model members of our family. They overcame a language barrier and learnt to communicate in Hindi with other families. Diligently they ensured that our centre remained spotlessly clean, and participated in the skill development activities we organise for parents. Alfan and his family were one of the first few families to shift to our Cotton Green Campus from Khargar when it first opened.

Surgery was the medical course of action decided for Alfan, during his successful surgery a tumor was removed from Alfan's leg. Alfan required the support of crutches to walk prior to his surgery, after his surgery he was able to walk with a cane. One day, engaged in conversation with our centre staff Alfan began walking without his cane, a sign of his tremendous triumph against the disease. He returns to us for a checkup:making him our 10,000th admission.

It is wonderful see the first children who still come back once a year or every two years, just to be assured that all is well. Little ones like Shilpi, who learnt to crawl and walk at the centres, are now pre-teenagers. Older ones like Golu, Sonal, Prince and Nazia are in college, hoping to become engineers, Company Secretaries or para-medics. Their visits to the centres are always a source of great hope and inspiration to families whose children are currently under treatment.

St. Judes has reached a milestone like the 10,000th admission in just 11 years is a testimonial of the success of the St. Judes model. The numbers are made up of over 7000 returnee admissions, a measure of our care. But the underlying message is of our need to grow, as only then can we fulfil our Founder's promise to ensure that every child in need who is travelling to a city hospital for treatment of cancer, will have a clean, safe, hygienic and happy place to stay, for as long as he or she needs it.

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