13/12/2016 3:47 PM IST | Updated 13/12/2016 4:50 PM IST

India Has A Shortage Of Organ Donors, But Now Kolkata Police May Help Make A Difference

Recently they created a green corridor in the city for cadaver organ transportation.

The Kolkata Police is going big with a campaign and will approach families of accident victims requesting them to go for cadaver organ transplants.

In October this year, 17-year-old Swarnendu Roy, a class XII student from Basirhat, in the northern fringes of Kolkata, met with an accident when he was riding a two-wheeler. Despite attempts to save his life, Swarnendu was declared brain dead after a few days.

His parents were numbed with pain and disbelief. Their world -- centred around their only child -- had fallen apart. That is when Swarnendu's uncle, Manash Sarkar, suggested cadaver organ donation.

"I had read about cadaver organ transplants. A person who is gone cannot be brought back, but it would perhaps ease our pain a little bit if someone else continued to live because of him," Sarkar said. Doctors from Apollo Gleneagles Hospitals and the state government-run SSKM Hospital, the state health department and Kolkata Police got together to ensure the transplantations worked.

The Kolkata Police, on the night of 3 November, created a green corridor so that the organs removed from the body of the deceased could be transferred from one hospital to the other hospital in the shortest time possible. A distance of 10 km that usually takes 45 minutes was covered in 10 minutes. The organs were taken from the Apollo Gleneagles Hospitals to the state government-run SSKM Hospital where two transplant operations (a liver transplant and a kidney transplant) were conducted. Another kidney transplant was conducted at the Apollo Gleneagles Hospitals.

Swarnendu's kidneys were donated to 36-year-old Rubi Sardar and Nilofer Ara, another young woman; and his liver was donated to 46-year-old Sanjukta Mondol. The cornea was taken for another recipient whose name was not disclosed.

While all three operations were successful, Rubi and Sanjukta passed away because of post-surgery complications. Nilofer Ara and her family members could not be contacted.

The story would have perhaps been a happier one had the recipients of the cadaver organs lived. But if there is a silver lining, it is this: in possibly the first of its kind effort, the Kolkata Police is going big with a campaign and will approach families of accident victims requesting them to go for cadaver organ transplants. It will involve providing counsellors and physicians so that family members of fatal accident victims can be requested and counselled to donate the organs of their loved ones when they are declared brain dead. "Even if the response of one per cent families is positive, we can have at least one or two such transplants every month, which is not a bad start," said a top officer.

Post operative complications from such operations is an area of concern in Kolkata, unlike many other parts of the country. Rate of cadaver transplant and effective long-run functioning of the transplanted organ, as well as survival of patients after such operations, in the city is nothing to write home about. But more such transplant surgeries may be a reality if relatives of fatal accident victims agree to cadaver organ transplants. "All it requires is a little push and massive awareness campaigns," said Manash Sarkar, Swarnendu's uncle. "More surgeries may also mean more survival rates in the long run."

"I will not blame the doctors at SSKM for my wife's death. They took a lot of care. I was the one who had given up all hope. I had had detailed discussion over video conference about my wife's treatment with doctors in many parts of the country, including Chennai. The only problem was the availability of organ for transplant. If the transplant took place six months ago, my wife could have survived," said Sanjukta's husband Somnath Mondal.

India faces acute shortage of organ donors –- an estimated 1.8 lakh persons suffer from renal failure every year, but the number of transplants is only 6,000. Another 2 lakh persons die of liver failure or liver cancer, but only 10-15% can be saved through liver transplant. While 25,000-30,000 liver transplants are required annually in India, only 1500 surgeries are performed. The situation is much the same for heart and cornea transplants. While 50,000 persons suffer from heart failures annually in the country, only about 15 (approximately) transplants take place. Cornea transplants are about 25,000 annually, against a demand of 1 lakh.

Compare this figure with the number of people who die in road accidents in India: the data of 2015 reveal that 1,374 accidents occurred in a year, and 400 deaths take place every day on Indian roads. This means, there are 57 accidents and 17 deaths every hour on an average in the country. Tamil Nadu, Maharashta, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala, Uttar Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Telengana, Chhattisgarh, West Bengal, and Haryana are some of the states where road accidents occur the most, and these states together account for 86.7 percent road accidents in the entire country (Source: Road Accidents in India, 2015, Ministry of Road Transport & Highways). While India is signatory to the Brasilia Declaration that is committed to reduce road accidents by 50 percent by 2020, the reality is that the number of persons killed in road accidents increased by 4.6 per cent from 2014 to 2015. The reasons attributed are rapid urbanisation, increase in road network, drinking and driving, rash driving and so on.

But the awareness on having people donate organs in case of road accidents is so poor, that the gap has not been bridged.

In many metro cities throughout the country, there are reports of police providing green corridor to make the cadaver organ transplant work. Such incidents have been reported from Delhi, Kolkata, Chennai, Pune, Mumbai, and so on. But there is lack of a massive scale of awareness that this requires.

Kolkata Police commissioner Rajeev Kumar did not comment on the upcoming campaign that the city police will run, but sources said that he held a meeting with some officers recently on this. The state government's "Safe Drive Save Life" campaign, launched a few months ago by Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee – targeted at road safety and awareness on use of helmet and seat belts to prevent road accidents – appear to be well on track and the one on cadaver organ donation will take off from there. "Road accidents cannot be reduced to zero. The idea is to breathe new life into others even when road accidents take place and people are killed," said a senior officer of Kolkata Police, involved in the execution of the campaign.

Prabhat Sardar, whose wife Ruby had "almost completely recovered" after her kidney transplant, says that he would like to see many others come forward with cadaver organ donations. Prabhat and Ruby were so happy after the transplant, he recalled, and he had clicked her photographs at the hospital with his camera.

Keya Roy, a 27 year old, had undergone a kidney transplantation surgery from the deceased Sovona Sarkar's donated organ in 26 June. Keya was doing fine for a couple of weeks after the surgery, but has now gone back to dialysis again.

Same goes for 30-year-old Seikh Feroze, who got Sarkar's other kidney. "As of now, I am doing fine. If people were more aware of cadaver organ donation, maybe the system would have been much more effective by now, the way it is in some other parts of the country," said Keya. Now Keya and Feroze and thousands of others like them are waiting for donors who can make them lead normal lives all over again.

What is cadaver organ donation?Cadaver is a dead human body. Cadaver, in medical parlance, is a corpse used for dissection and study. In the context of organ transplantation, a cadaver is a brain-dead body with a beating heart, on life support system.
What are the organs and tissues that can be donated/transplanted?

Liver, Kidney, Heart, Lung, Pancreas, Intestine (organs)

Cornea, Bone, Skin, Heart Valve, Blood vessels, Nerves, and Tendon etc (Tissues)

(please note that some of the above organs/tissues can be donated in live donors and some in cadaver transplantation)

How quickly should the organs donated be transplanted?

Heart: 4-6 hours

Lungs: 4-8 hours

Intestine: 6-10 hours

Liver: 12-15 hours

Pancreas: 12-24 hours

Kidneys: 24-48 hours

-- Source (National Organ and Tissue Transplant Organisation [NOTTO], under National Organ Transplant Programme [NOTP], Union Health Ministry)

13,208 road accidents took place in which 6,234 persons were killed in West Bengal in 2015

Persons killed in 2015:

Kolkata: 422

Delhi: 1622

Chennai: 886

Mumbai: 611

Bengaluru: 713

(Source: Road Accidents in India, 2015, Ministry of Road Transport And Highways)