Monday, March 10, 2008

TRAGIC TURN OF FATE (Life has been cruel to this Karnataka techie)

New Delhi: Manjunath Kalmani occasionally gives a confused smile. But his eyes never smile. Framed by the iron headrest of his hospital bed, a striped sheet draped over him, the techie from Karnataka remains immobile. Actually, he can’t move even if he wanted to — he has been paralyzed neck down following a car accident in the US on May 1, 2002. The date is etched in his brain that’s ticking away, and registering every bizarre twist in his life story that took a dramatic turn that day. Not only was his promising life as a software engineer rudely interrupted at a young age of 27; he was reduced to a vegetable, living under the care of nurses in an alien land. Today he’s back home, but with no one to take care of him.

That’s the latest twist in his short but eventful life. On Wednesday, an air ambulance ferried him from Northside Hospital, Atlanta, Georgia, to the Palam airport. From there, he was taken and dumped at Safdarjung Hospital, which was kind enough to take him in and put him on a ventilator. The crippling paralysis has made his respiratory system useless. Manju was on his way back to his home from Nashville that May Day when his car spun out of control and hit a tree. It was a terrible accident, badly injuring his spine. Initially, it was feared he would spend his life on a wheelchair. But that turned out to be an optimistic prognosis.

Following a brain stroke and an emergency operation, he was paralyzed neck down. All he can do now is speak in a rasping whisper that’s not easy to comprehend. “I want to meet my mother. I haven’t met her for the past eight years. Please tell her I’m missing her if you get to speak to her,’’ he told TOI. Manju’s family is in Koppal. But hesitant to come to Delhi. “Come, and do what?’’ asked his brother Sudhakar when contacted over phone. The family can’t afford his treatment, and fears it might be forced to take him back home. “We can’t take care of Manju.

His condition is serious, he is on ventilator, and here we don’t have the facility to take care of him,’’ said Sudhakar, who works in a co-operative society that lends money to farmers and petty businessmen. Manju’s father is a farmer and mother, Vidyawati, a housewife. There was a time when the same family thought young Manju would change everything for them. He had got himself a job with an American new-economy company,, for which he was developing software.

Things looked good for a while. But then, the economy turned choppy and laid off many. Manju, too, got the pink slip. Left to the mercy of human kindness New Delhi: Manjunath Kalmani, who is lying in a Delhi hospital immobile, had to face tough days after he lost his job in the US as a software engineer. Since he was without a job for a few months, he didn’t have the money to renew his medical insurance. That’s when he met with a life-threatening car accident. In short, he was at the mercy of fellow humans. The Indian community raised money several times for Manju. He was moved to the Shepherd Rehab Center in Atlanta and then to a community apartment with nurses. Even as lay immobile in his bed, Manju’s spirit wasn’t broken. He started a blog with software system (sip-n-puff) based on the Morse code (

He wrote about his injury and other things — such as myths and the truth about diabetes. It wasn’t a life without self-respect and might have remained that way but for the fact that his visa expired. That’s when the hospital got frantic about getting rid of him. In India, where life is cheap, such helpless persons are simply dumped, but you can’t do that in the US. The hospital, therefore, got in touch with the Indian mission, and for two years tried to get it to shift him back to India. Finally, on March 3, he was discharged. Accompanied by a nurse and an emergency medical technician of Central EMS and Life Flight Air Ambulance Services, he was brought back here by Phoenix Air Worldwide Aircraft Services. Only to be dumped.

Said Safdarjung Hospital medical superintendent Dr Jagdish Prasad: “The hospital received a call from the Indian Embassy, Washington, at 2.24 am on March 5, 2008, and was informed about Manjunath. And also that the air ambulance would be landing in Delhi in a few hours. We have admitted him on humanitarian grounds as the people who had brought him here were not ready to take him back.’’ Sudhakar told TOI that on February 28, a person called Sandra rang him up from Shepherd Rebab Center. “She said Manju was being shifted to Mother Teresa hospital in Delhi.’’ There’s no such hospital in the city; however, there is a destitute home by the name of Mother Teresa. Said Sudhakar:

“I had written to Shepherd Center about our condition and that we would not be able to take care of him. I had requested them that they should consider Manjunath’s case on humanitarian grounds take care of. I just want my brother to stay alive and taken care of. We can’t afford his treatment. But I don’t want him to die.’’ That, in short, is Manju’s story. In medical terms, he is a quadriplegic. He also has hypothyrodism, Type 2 diabetes, chronic urinary infection, depression, chronic abdominal pain with gastroparesis, profound blood pressure variation. All this is from his discharge slip from Northside Hospital, Atlanta.

What it doesn’t say is that he is totally helpless and at the mercy, yet again, on human kindness. Manju can’t even call for help. He claims that often his nurses at the community apartment where he was kept would not give him food — to prevent him from passing stool and save themselves the task of cleaning up the mess. His pancreas packed up while he was there. When TOI met him at the Safdarjung Hospital, Manju’s head had slipped from the pillow and he wanted somebody to straighten it out. Breathing hard with the help of a ventilator, he whispered for help. Tears rolled down his cheeks as he tried to speak to us. “I was forced to leave Shepherd hospital. I didn’t know that I was being sent to India till the last day,’’

he rasped with difficulty. It was difficult to follow what he said. His diet is reduced to carbohydrates, as due to excess protein in his body, he gets uncomfortable when he eats something else. “I have been on rice for years now,’’ he told TOI. Manju needs to be in an ICU as his condition is serious. He has developed bedsores and has to be looked after well. But with nobody by his side, he waits for help. The attending nurses find it difficult to understand what he says and carry a pen and paper to write down as Manju spells sentences with difficulty. Till recently, he was interacting with his family members from the hospital in Atlanta over the internet. “I use the Morse code to interact with my family on the computer. My means of communication is a laptop. I operate my computer using sip-n-puff mouth control device,’’ wrote Kalmani in his blog, which he started writing in 2007. But the laptop was taken away from him a month ago.

The Safdarjung Hospital is making efforts to shift Manju to the ICU. “We will inform the DGHS about the incident. And do whatever we can to help him,’’ said medical superintendent Dr Jagdish Prasad.

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