Orthopaedic Department, SSSIHMS, Prasanthigram - Genesis And Growth
I first came to Puttaparthi in November 1999 with a very close friend of mine and his wife who are ardent devotees of Bhagavan Sri Sathya Sai Baba. During the course of my stay there, I visited Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Medical Sciences (SSSIHMS), Prasanthigram (PG), popularly known as Super Speciality Hospital. Having worked for decades as an orthopaedic surgeon, I was disappointed to note that there was no orthopaedic speciality and no orthopaedic services at the hospital.
Swami Gives me a New Lease of Life
Swami is quoted to have said that no one can come to Him unless He calls that person. I never thought for a moment that my life would change from that visit. Swami called me for an interview along with my friend’s family before we left Puttaparthi. This was the experience of my lifetime. Swami materialised a beautiful Navaratna ring and put it on the finger of my right hand. In a personal interview, He asked about my health. I said, “I am fine”. He said “No, you are not fine. You have a stomach problem”. He then rubbed the front of my chest with His divine hands from my chin to just below my umbilicus three times and then said, “Now you are fine”. I did not know its significance at that time. Following this, from the year 2000, my wife Dr. Chandra Varadachari and myself were blessed to participate as volunteers in every medical camp at Puttaparthi during Guru Purnima and Bhagavan’s Birthday celebrations. During these visits, I had had the wonderful opportunity to be blessed by Bhagavan with several interviews. During one such interview, I heard Him say, “Lots of chest pain. Nothing to worry. Swami will take care. Swami is with you, above you, below you, around you”. I came to realise this a few months later in May 2002, when I suffered a massive heart attack – myocardial infarction which could be fatal. But I was saved only by the love and compassion of Swami. During a group interview a few months later at Prasanthi Nilayam, I thanked Swami and expressed my gratitude for giving my life back to me. Swami blessed me by materialising a ring.
Opportunities to Serve at Puttaparthi
During the period of service on the occasion of Guru Purnima in 2005, I was asked by one of the senior doctors in Sri Sathya Sai General Hospital to see a 60-year-old patient who was admitted with severe pain in her leg. She was in extremely poor state of health, with multiple contractures of her extremity and multiple bed sores. Having severe cerebral palsy from her childhood, she never walked nor could speak coherently. She had sustained a severely displaced fracture of the shaft of the femur (thigh bone). This required surgery, but the condition of the patient was poor for any kind of surgery. I explained the situation, the pros and cons of surgery to the referring doctor and the patient’s father.
The hospital staff wanted me to do the surgery at Puttaparthi. But as there was no Orthopaedic Department in Puttaparthi nor any facilities or instruments to do any type of orthopaedic surgery, I recommended that she be taken to Bengaluru. About 4 or 5 days later, the senior doctor at the General Hospital, who referred this patient to me, called me and said that she received a message informing them that Swami wanted the surgery to be done at Puttaparthi on this patient and that I had to do the surgery. I was not familiar with the super speciality hospital but knew that there were no facilities to do any major orthopaedic surgery. The same day which was a Thursday, the Joint Director of SSSIHMS came to see me and told me that they would provide me the Urology Theatre for doing the surgery and the urology staff would help me. I managed to get some necessary instruments and the implants though not all sizes were available. I used the Urology Theatre the following Monday and prayed to Bhagavan to help me or ‘do’ the surgery Himself. The surgery went well by the grace of Swami and the patient never suffered any complications. Her fracture healed without any problems and to this date, 12 years after surgery, she is doing very well. This was possible only by the grace of Swami.
My wife, Chandra and I were present again in Puttaparthi for the medical camp during Swami’s Birthday in 2005. During that visit, I was asked to see an old man who was admitted to the General Hospital with a broken hip. I recommended that this patient be transferred to Bengaluru as he needed surgery. The patient’s grandson insisted that I should operate on his grandfather at Puttaparthi. He was not convinced when I told him that it was not possible for me to do surgery for him at Puttaparthi due to non-availability of fracture table. He was not happy. A few days later, before I left for U.S.A. after the conclusion of the medical camp, I informed Dr. Narendranath Reddy (Chairman, Prasanthi Council) about all these patients and the circumstances under which I did or did not do the surgery.
Establishment of the Orthopaedic Department
The First International Medical Conference on Sathya Sai Ideal Healthcare was held on 3rd and 4th September 2005 in Prasanthi Nilayam. The conference brought awareness of the principles of Ideal Healthcare, including universal and comprehensive healthcare. It was recognised that there was a need for an Orthopaedic Department of highest professional excellence at SSIHMS. Dr. Reddy and Dr. Safaya prayed to Swami for the establishment of such a department at SSSIHMS, Prasanthigram.
Soon after Maha Sivarathri 2006, Dr. Narendranath Reddy returned from Puttaparthi and called me to say that he had prayed to Swami for starting an Orthopaedic Department at Puttaparthi and the ever compassionate loving Bhagavan agreed. People from the Ashram and neighbouring villages who could not afford to travel or find transportation to go elsewhere, could now receive advanced and definitive treatment at SSSIHMS. He also told me that he had requested Bhagavan to inaugurate the Orthopaedic Department on Guru Purnima Day in 2006. That gave us just about three months to organise the Department. Dr. Safaya who was then the Director of SSSIHMS at Whitefield called me in March 2006 and said that Swami had directed him to extend the necessary support for starting the Orthopaedic Department at SSSIHMS, Prasanthigram. He appointed me as Special Officer in charge of orthopaedics.
On 28th April 2006, Dr. Safaya, Dr. Narendranath Reddy and myself placed the Project Report at the Divine Lotus Feet at His abode, Trayee Brindavan, for His blessings and approval. Bhagavan blessed it and told us, “Whenever you purchase equipment, buy locally (Indian) made, where possible”. Accordingly, all major appliances, furniture and equipment for the Department and Operation Theatre were located from reputable companies within India. Nurses and two senior orthopaedic surgeons were ready to work in the department. Despite what seemed to be an impossible task to get everything ready for inauguration, so many miracles occurred with Swami’s grace and all the work was completed by 10th July. Swami sent word that He was happy and the Orthopaedic Department should start functioning immediately. The first day witnessed about 150 patients being treated in the Department. Swami gave His blessings to start performing total joint replacement arthroplasties beginning from His Birthday in 2006, within four months of inauguration of the Department.
Progress of the Orthopaedic Department
As we marked the first-year anniversary of the Department, the Orthopaedic Department had seen nearly 28,000 patients from many parts of India and the world and doctors had performed 1,800 surgeries in the very first year. We were grateful that the poor villagers now had a place to get treatment for their broken bones and similar ailments.
The Orthopaedic Department was given recognition and full accreditation by the National Board of Examiners for postgraduate residency training leading to the Diploma in National Boards (DNB) within one year of opening, which is a rare honour and recognition. The first batch of DNB students were admitted on 1st January 2008. Today, the percentage of successful candidates from this programme is more than 80%, compared to the national average of less than 20%. On an average, about 150 patients receive treatment daily in all branches of Orthopaedics. About 2,000 major operations have been performed every year with good results. Surgeries have included management of severe fractures, paediatric cases, arthroscopic repair and reconstruction, total joint replacement, spine surgeries, Ilizorov method for trauma and deformity correction (a limb-sparing technique to treat complex and / or open bone fractures), etc.
Swami’s love and compassion had reached out to people from all over the country and beyond. There were so many persons in Puttaparthi with severe pain and crippling deformities who could not travel to bigger cities for relief due to lack of transportation and resources to afford the expensive treatments elsewhere. An elderly devotee who never stopped performing Seva at the Ashram had a crippling arthritis of both knees and had been suffering with pain for many years. After being blessed by Bhagavan, he underwent bilateral total knee replacement at SSSIHMS in 2006, one of the earliest persons to undergo this procedure and was extremely happy on being free from pain in his joints. There were several similar instances of people within the Ashram benefiting from the Orthopaedic Department due to the grace of Bhagavan.
One late evening in 2008, I was requested to see a young man in his home. This patient was Swami’s student, then working as a faculty in Sri Sathya Sai University. He was running very high fever, looked toxic, and had evidence of chronic osteomyelitis (chronic bone infection) with acute flare up of infection, a condition which is very difficult to treat and eradicate. X-rays showed significant loss of bones and sequestrum (dead bone fragments) and a metal rod which had been placed by surgeons in his leg previously. In order to try to eradicate the infection, I told him that I have to remove the metal rod. He said that it was not possible, and Swami would not permit it. He had been using a wheelchair or crutches all these years for ambulation. A couple of years before I saw him, the surgeon wanted to remove the rod. According to the patient, Swami denied permission. I told him that the only way I know how to treat and control the infection was to remove the rod as part of the surgery. I wrote a detailed report about the patient’s current condition and sought Swami’s permission to do the surgery. That evening, the patient took my report to the Bhajan Mandir and placed it at the Divine Lotus Feet. Swami read the whole report, blessed him materialising a beautiful emerald ring, put it in his hands and told him “Go, have the surgery. Get the rod out and come back to me walking without any support”. We did the surgery and as Swami ordained, he started walking without crutches or any support, running around everywhere, and became very active. When Swami wills it, even impossible things become possible. Currently, this gentleman is a professor in Swami’s college.
Resident teaching also involves participation in educational orthopaedic conferences held in different cities and centres. The Orthopaedic Department conducted several International Orthopaedic Conferences in SSSIHMS starting in May 2008. For the Second International Orthopaedic Conference, internationally and nationally renowned faculty were assembled including one from USA, two from England and at least six from India. The Conference also featured two live surgeries which were broadcast from the Operation Theatre. Our happiness knew no bounds when Swami came to inaugurate the Conference.
To date, 34 DNB residents have been admitted for DNB training in the Orthopaedic Department and 24 have successfully completed their training. The remainder are currently in training. A Sports Medicine Fellowship has been established. The residents and staff of SSSIHMS Orthopaedics have published papers in peer reviewed journals and have also presented papers and case reports in various conferences and professional meetings. With the collaborations of Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Learning (SSIHL), several research projects are currently underway. A full-fledged “Bone School” (hands-on training in dry bone and stimulation lab) has been established for DNB students. The Department has already performed several thousand operations for major fractures, arthritis, deformities and other orthopaedic problems. Between July 2006 and March 2018, the Department has witnessed 3,59,880 out-patient visits, 29,137 in-patient hospital admissions, 18,905 major surgeries and 7,55,769 physical therapy (PT) visits.
I feel ever indebted to Bhagavan for providing me and my wife so many opportunities to serve Him through the years.
– The author Dr. R. Varadachari is former Chairman, Department of Orthopaedics, SSSIHMS, Prasanthigram.