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Young Blood: How An IIT Graduate Created A Lifeline For Thousands Of Patients

20/05/2015 8:07 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST
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While so many of us ambitious Indians in our early 20s are caught up in the rat race of earning big money or completing lavish bucket lists full of exotic holiday destinations, there are a few others who are focused on saving the world, albeit quietly. Meet Utkarsh Kawatra, an IIT graduate from Delhi. At first glance, he seems like any other dashing hire at a plush investment firm trying to find a firm foothold in his company's promotion ladder. But one phone call later, the entire scenario changes. He picks up his mobile apologetically during a casual coffee session and answers urgently. The caller on the other end mentions something that tenses up his brows. "Sir, we don't have a hub in your city yet, but if you send me your requirements, how much blood you need, what's the blood group that's required, I can try arranging something for you as soon as possible," he replies with man-on-a-mission urgency. The caller thanks him and he breaks into a dimpled smile, "It's in our blood to save lives, sir."

Kawatra's Superman avatar makes me feel inadequate. At just 24, he is the co-founder of BloodConnect, India's largest youth-run NGO solving the nationwide problem of blood shortage in the country. As of date, the organisation has collected 17,000 units from 200 donation drives, saving almost 30,000.

"[T]he country faces a shortage of 3 million blood units that can be easily eliminated if only an additional 2% of India's youth donates blood."

I throw a barrage of questions at Kawatra to learn more about his initiative. Founded in 2010 by a few college mates as part of the National Service Scheme (NSS), the students' community programme, BloodConnect was born as a simple supply solution to the constant requests of blood pouring in from various hospitals in Delhi. On further research, the founders realised that the country faces a shortage of 3 million blood units that can be easily eliminated if only an additional 2% of India's youth donates blood. So they expanded their channel, connecting voluntary blood donors with those who needed blood across the capital city.

BloodConnect became a fully independent organisation on its second anniversary in 2012, aiming for growth towards its focused direction. This was achieved by extending the goal objective outside Delhi, in IIT Kanpur in 2013. Since then, the NGO has had a steady stream of successes. Celebrating its fifth anniversary this year, BloodConnect has organised numerous donation drives in collaboration with various blood banks, successfully set up a 24-hour helpline that has helped save more than 2000 lives in emergency, and spread awareness to almost 7, 00,000 through street plays and competitions. The initiative has also been recognised by the Union Minister of Health and Family Welfare last year for its exemplary work in this field.

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So how does BloodConnect handle an urgent request for blood? A request has to be raised online on the organisation's website, www.bloodconnect.org, or the local helpline (Kawatra's number comes up first in Google if you search for the NGO). As soon as the request is registered, a BloodConnect member checks on the availability of volunteers and asks them to contact a list of dedicated donors in the area. The requestor arranges the roundabout transportation for the donor. For women donors, a special layer of checks are conducted for additional safety.

"I'm already adjusting my cloak and armour -- are you set to join forces for this noble cause?"

The volunteers are equipped to handle critical cases with the help of donors and the mentorship of senior members such as Kawatra. "We once got a request at around midnight for a patient who was suffering from dengue. His platelet count had dropped to 12,000 and he was deteriorating. He required immediate transfusion and that too of a rare blood group, O-. The hospital did not have its own blood bank and the doctors were losing hope of finding a donor through their contacts. We managed to assimilate seven volunteers who started searching for donors. Around 1 in the morning, we found someone in IIT who matched the blood group and a volunteer accompanied him to the hospital. After a lengthy platelet donation that took almost five hours, we were able to bring the donor back to campus by 7:30 in the morning. The poor boy could not even get any sleep since he had morning lectures scheduled on that day," explains Nachiketa Goyal, the Delhi head of BloodConnect.

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The NGO's compelling efforts have found fans in donors and doctors alike. "BloodConnect has conducted close to 40 blood donation camps with our blood bank in the last few years. They ensure all the camps are conducted smoothly while ensuring the donor gets the best experience possible," says Dr Poonam Coshic, Chief Medical Officer (CMO), Main AIIMS blood bank. Saurabh Gupta, a patient's relative who was helped at Maharaja Agrasen Hospital adds to Dr Coshic's glowing review, "I was very happy to hear from them right after I filed the request and BloodConnect arranged for a donor after I gave them the details. Eventually my cousin started regaining his health. I would thank the BloodConnect team for their quick response. If any help is needed in future, I am always there to help."

But the Bruce Waynes of my generation aren't stopping just yet. Kawatra and his army of do-gooders have big plans for the future. They plan to expand operations from seven cities to 15 now, and aim to collect 25,000 blood units this year. Donations are needed and blood donors are required, not only to lend a helping hand but also to act as local ambassadors for the awareness of the issue of blood shortage in India.

I'm already adjusting my cloak and armour -- are you set to join forces for this noble cause?

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