By Shanelle Bandara
A very special conference took place on 25 September at Shangri-La Hotel, Colombo. The conference was titled “Healthy Liver, Beloving Life” and a number of liver specialists (herpetologists) attended. Chairing the event was world-renowned – and according to the World Health Organisation (WHO) the “most busy liver transplant surgeon in the world” – Prof. Mohamed Rela. Gracing the occasion as the Chief Guest was Minister of Health, Nutrition, and Indigenous Medicine Dr. Rajitha Senaratne accompanied by State Minister of Health, Nutrition, and Indigenous Medicine Faizal Cassim. The event was organised by Dr. Rela Institute and Medical Centre (RIMC) of Chennai. A few members from the RIMC, specialist doctors treating liver-related diseases at government and private hospitals, and a few patients who underwent liver transplant surgery at the RIMC Hospital attended the event.
The proceedings began with a special opening performance and were followed by an introduction to the RIMC Hospital based in Chennai. The RIMC facilitates more than 450 beds inclusive of 130 critical care beds, 14 operating rooms, and sophisticated reference laboratories and radiology services.
Starting off the speeches was RIMC Medical Advisory Board Chairman Dr. Illankumaran Kaliamoorthy. According to him, thousands of patients with liver disease in Chennai were treated and 100 successful liver transplants were done. He went on to give a small introduction to Dr. Rela in which he stated that Dr. Rela had gone to the UK around 30 years ago and performed more than 4,000 liver transplant surgeries in the last 30 years and even went on to perform surgery on a five-year-old child. Dr. Kaliamoorthy concluded by stating: “We call RIMC an international facility not because we treat international patients, but because we maintain an international standard to provide the highest possible quality.”
Subsequent to Dr. Kaliamoorthy’s brief introduction, Medical Advisory Board Vice Chairman and senior consultant Dr. Gomathy Narasimhan along with RIMC Director of Women and Children Health and Senior Consultant – Paediatric Gastroenterology and Herpetology Dr. Naresh Shanmugam took to the podium to tell us a few success stories. Dr. Narasimhan added that when last year, Dr. Rela moved to another hospital from the one he had been working at for nine years, the patients too had travelled with him.
As the two ended their speeches, it was finally time for Dr. Rela himself to narrate his tale. He began by stating that similar things can in fact be achieved in Sri Lanka. “I worked in the UK for 28 years and moved to India to my hometown where there was nothing in terms of liver transplantation. As a young man, I felt that my life was in the western world, but as I grew older, I felt the need to return back home,” he stated ardently. He was told by many individuals that he could not replicate what was in the western world in India, but now he claims that RIMC is more successful than King’s College Hospital.
Dr. Rela worked at King’s College Hospital at a time where he had to perform 2,000 liver transplants. Continuing on, he added that a concern for most people when undergoing transplants is what their life expectancy and quality of life would be. “It is not done just to save a life, but to improve the quality of life. It actually puts them back in to normal life,” he stated in this regard. With this, he requested all individuals who had undergone transplants to step forward to prove they do in fact lead normal lives. He concluded by stating that they will do their very best to support the local programme that is to begin in Sri Lanka.
Dr. Senaratne began his speech by stating that serious organ transplants is fairly new in our country. Nevertheless, we have made steady progress over the past few years through the initiative taken by the Ministry of Health. He was keen on seeing the first liver transplant performed on 1 June 2015, which happened on 2 June. He further stated that the first heart transplant surgery was in 1967, but it had taken 50 years for Sri Lanka to perform one locally. In fact, he had been instrumental in providing the necessary equipment for the surgery. Now, the Ministry is preparing to do the first lung transplant in Sri Lanka. He proudly stated that Sri Lanka has skilled surgeons, but the task of liver transplantation is difficult as it involves about 30-40 medical personnel at various stages and the process itself lasts for approximately 10-12 hours.
However, he is determined to have liver transplantations done locally at government hospitals, with no cost to patients, which he elaborated by stating: “We never calculate the rupees and cents, but believe in the value of human life.” He assured his Ministry’s co-operation and support towards this positive initiative that would address the country’s growing need for liver transplants and wished the programme every success.
Talking at the event, RIMC Business Head – Country Office in Sri Lanka M.F.A. Riyas said they were gathered to celebrate the event to commemorate the success of liver transplant, and to officially introduce Forte International, a local company, as the exclusive country office of RIMC India. He went on to say that the journey started a decade ago in finding a solution for the people of this country to treat their ailments. He further stated that it has been an honour to be the mediator between the doctors of RIMC and the Sri Lankan consultants and transplant surgeons.
“Being a proud Sri Lankan, my objective is not only to refer patients for treatment in India, but also to make sure we make use of latest, cutting-edge technology and expertise in our country through the RIMC team to provide the best healthcare solutions to the nation,” he said, adding that MOUs have already been signed with public institutes in Sri Lanka and these projects are currently in place. He also hopes to establish more medical centres across the country and is looking for more opportunities of partnerships.
The programme concluded with a special felicitation by patients treated by RIMC.
Photos Eshan Dasanayaka