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Monday July 15, 2024

From Karachi to Chennai: Pakistani teen’s journey for a new heart

Ayesha is not the first Pakistani to get a heart in India

By M Waqar Bhatti
April 27, 2024
This image shows a girl from Pakistan, Ayesha Rashan, who was recently given the heart of a 69-year-old brain-dead Indian patient at a hospital in Chennai. — Facebook/Indian Reunification Association/File
This image shows a girl from Pakistan, Ayesha Rashan, who was recently given the heart of a 69-year-old brain-dead Indian patient at a hospital in Chennai. — Facebook/Indian Reunification Association/File

ISLAMABAD: Nineteen-year-old Ayesha Rashid of Karachi has a new heart, and she had to travel all the way to India to get it. Diagnosed with dilated cardiomyopathy at age 14, Ayesha traveled to Chennai for a heart transplant and is currently under observation at MGM Healthcare in Chennai.

According to Indian media reports, a team led by Dr KR Balakrishnan implanted a Left Ventricle Assist Device (LVAD) in her heart. Unfortunately, the LVAD malfunctioned, leading to an infection. Dr Balakrishnan’s team then performed a successful heart transplant using a donor heart transported from Delhi to Chennai.

This heartwarming story of a young Pakistani girl getting a new lease on life -- and that too in India -- points to the many ways borders can be eased for medical care. But it also highlights the challenges faced by heart transplant facilities in Pakistan.

Ayesha is not the first Pakistani to get a heart in India. Forty-sx-year-old Muhammad Amir (name changed on request) was 37 years old in 2014 when cardiologists in Karachi told him that he was suffering from ‘dilated cardiomyopathy’, a disease in which chambers of the heart become dilated and muscles get weak, impairing the heart’s ability to pump blood effectively to the rest of the body.“Doctors managed my condition with medication, but they told me a transplant was the only cure,” Amir told The News, following reports of Ayesha receiving a successful heart transplant in India. “Through online research, I discovered a heart transplant centre in Chennai, India, where I received a new heart from an anonymous Indian donor in 2014.”Amir isn’t alone. Qari Zubair, an imam from Gujrat, was the first Pakistani to travel to Chennai for a heart transplant. Sadly, he developed complications and did not survive.

“According to my knowledge, around six Pakistanis have undergone heart transplants in India,” Amir said, preferring to keep personal details private. “I’m the longest survivor. Four others passed away after their transplants. So, why do Pakistanis need to travel all the way to India for heart transplants? Several transplant and cardiac surgeons cite a lack of expertise, high costs, limited post-operative care, and a shortage of deceased donors as the primary reasons for the absence of a heart transplant programme in Pakistan.

“The two main reasons we don’t perform heart transplants are the lack of deceased donors (transplant hearts can only be taken from deceased individuals) and a lack of expertise,” explained renowned liver transplant surgeon Dr Faisal Saud Dar. Dr Dar, who is dean and CEO of the Pakistan Kidney and Liver Institute and Research Center in Lahore, emphasized the importance of raising awareness about organ donation after death as a way to save lives.

But is there any hope for future? Renowned cardiac surgeon Dr Pervaiz Chaudhry believes heart transplants will become a reality in Pakistan soon. He claims to have the expertise and plans to initiate such a programme.

“I’ve performed over 71 heart transplants and several lung transplants,” Dr Chaudhry said. “I recently completed refresher training on heart transplants in the United States. I started a programme at the National Institute of Cardiovascular Diseases (NICVD) in Karachi to implant LVADs in heart failure patients, which could lead to heart transplants, but the programme couldn’t materialize due to unforeseen circumstances.”

Dr Chaudhry claims to have applied for permission from the Human Organ Transplant Authority (HOTA) to conduct heart and lung transplants at Umer Hospital in Lahore. He urges the authorities to define “brain death” in Pakistan, facilitating requests for organ donation from deceased individuals.

Heart transplant recipient Amir highlights the long-standing promises of a domestic heart transplant programme. “Authorities from the Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences (PIMS) in Islamabad and the Armed Forces Institute of Cardiology (AFIC) announced plans to perform heart transplants to save countless lives in 2011,” Amir tells The News.

“While I understand heart transplants are complex and expensive, traveling to India for such procedures is a huge burden. I wish we had our own centres offering transplants at free or affordable rates to save more lives.”