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Family of ailing one-year-old awaits Indian medical visas

By Zoya Anwer
March 23, 2018

Rushing from one doctor’s appointment to another and amid an agonising wait, last week went by in a jiffy for the parents of one-year-old Muhammad Ayaan Asad Khan.

Asad Ikram and Hadia Izhar, who have applied for an Indian medical visa with no response so far, arrived in Karachi on March 10 from Rawalpindi with their ailing infant hoping to find a doctor who would be able to perform the surgery which would save their child’s life. But all the doctors they consulted said the same thing: even though the surgery can be done in Pakistan, the post-operative care offered here was not good enough – a catch 22 for the parents who want the surgery and their child to survive after it too.

“We were running around different hospitals for checkups, including AKUH, Liaquat National Hospital, Tabba and NICVD,” said Ikram regarding the week his family spent in Karachi. Speaking to The News over the phone from his home in Rawalpindi, Ikram, who had reached out to this correspondent through social media, said that they left for Lahore on March 17, even there, they learnt that “the services of hospitals were not up to the mark because post care is not efficient”. “We cannot risk the life of our child,” Ikram said. “His health is deteriorating each day and it is getting more difficult for him to breathe.”

Ayaan, who was born in February 2017, has been diagnosed with Tetralogy of Fallot (TOF), a congenital heart ailment. TOF comprises of four blood flow hindrances, including a hole between the heart’s ventricles, the thickening of a muscle surrounding the lower right chamber, blood from both ventricles entering a displaced aorta – the largest artery, and an obstruction in the flow of blood between the heart and lungs.

A family’s plea

According Ayaan’s mother, Hadia, their primary doctor Dr Zaheer Ahmed had advised them to take him for a surgery after he was six months old, but in Pakistan, children with such ailments are usually treated after they are at least a year old. “Dr Ahmed has also issued a letter stressing the gravity of the issuance of medical visa for Ayaan,” she said.

Earlier this month, another child Maier Jawed, who belongs to Karachi, had received his medical visa for the same ailment and would hopefully be operated upon next week. Jawad Fahim, Maier’s father, had applied for a visa in December and received it finally in March after he reached out to the media and the case was highlighted.

Ayaan’s parents hope for the same because with each passing day his condition continues to deteriorate.

According to Hadia, when they consulted doctors in Karachi, two paediatric cardiologists from NICVD and AKUH both advised surgery as soon as possible and suggested hospitals in India that could efficiently handle the case. Hadia then reached out to a cousin in New Dehli, who immediately got them an appointment with doctors at the All India Institute of Medical Science.

“The appointment was for March 23 (today), and my husband applied for the visa in the first week of March. But so far, we are yet to hear from the Indian High Commission,” she said. Ikram said he has visited the Commission’s office three times with all necessary documents – two of those times taking Ayaan with him to show them his condition.

“His growth has halted since the past three months. We are desperate to take him for the surgery,” the father pleaded. “He turns blue because of lack of oxygen in his body, which is why he needs to be taken to India.”

Last month, Ayaan celebrated his first birthday, but still weights just 8.2 kilogrammes. “He remains very cranky at night because of sleeplessness, but we are far more worried about the fact that he doesn’t walk or crawl. He started to stand on his feet with balance, but hasn’t even been doing that for the past few days,” Hadia added.

“We would like to request the Indian High Commission, especially Sushma Swaraj, India’s Minister of External Affairs, to look into our child’s case because he needs to be treated urgently,” Ikram said. “Each day is more difficult than the one before it.”

Ikram added that he has tried to reach out to the minister on social media and his wife’s cousin in New Delhi has also attempted to reach out to two of Sushma’s secretaries – Satish Chander Gupta and Vijay P Dwivdei – who assured him that the visa would be granted, but nothing has happened so far.

He further said that for the now the Indian High Commission had informed him that their visa application is still being processed. “So, I will just cross my fingers and wait for my son’s treatment eagerly,” he said.

Hope for sick children

According to Faiz Kidwai, who was behind the Heart2Heart initiative by the Rotary Humanitarian Trust which ran from 2012 to 2015, the issuance of a medical visa used to take 15 days, but now there is no longer a fixed period.

The Heart2Heart initiative was a joint collaboration between Aman Ki Asha group and Rotary through which children with cardiac disease were provided free of charge surgery as well travel and visa arrangements, he said.

Around 70,000 children are born with congenital heart disease in Pakistan every year, according to some estimates, said Kidwai, adding that the initiative helped some 500 kids.

“Due to political conditions, the programme slowed down, but in the meantime Rotary also worked with NICVD at Karachi and supported them to undertake surgeries in Pakistan,” he said.