Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Lone crusader- The Dr. Kunal Saha story



Myself with Kunal Saha (left) at the Kolkata Press Club
The dingy room offers a complete contrast to the man sitting in the centre. Clad in a bright orange shirt he wipes his forehead off the sweat, and continues to address the small group of reporters congregated there. Dr. Kunal Saha is very animated as he explains the intricate details of his case to the group in The Press Club of Kolkata. The motive of the press conference was to expose the rampant corruption in the West Bengal Medical Council (WBMC), in relation to the death of Mrs. Anuradha Saha, Saha’s wife, in 1998 due to an alleged medical ‘negligence’. Dr Saha has been fighting the Indian medical and judicial system since the last thirteen years to get justice for his wife. He has virtually been a lone fighter and is continuing his fight against the system relentlessly.

Now Kunal Saha is back in the news as a High Court judgement a few weeks back indicted 17 doctor members of the West Bengal Medical Council for criminal conspiracy and shielding doctors responsible for the death of Anuradha Saha. Furthermore,  last month a case has been filed against a retired High Court Judge where the Supreme Court condemned him for making defamatory statements against Kunal Saha. 

“I am not fighting for myself. It’s for Anu(Anuradha) and as well as many others like her,” says the gritty man with a simple smile, making one realize that no matter what adversities one might face, we should never give up hope.

The beginning and the love story

Born in Halisahar (a city in the North 24 Parganas district of West Bengal), in 1958, to a large family, Dr Kunal Saha graduated from NRS Medical College, Kolkata in 1985 and then went on to America for his further studies. He did his PhD from the University of Texas, is now an MD and specializes in HIV/AIDS research.

It was in 1985, that he met Anuradha, that too by sheer co-incidence, and then their story unfolded almost like a Bollywood love story. Saha, after having missed a train to Delhi, had to board another train where he met Anuradha. That meeting led to a brief courtship that blossomed into a marriage in 1987. The next backdrop of what looked like a perfect boy-meets-girl story shifted to the US as the couple moved there to complete their medical education while chasing the great ‘American Dream’. Things went perfectly well for a decade as Anuradha went on to become a child psychiatrist while Kunal kept growing in his medical career before finally getting his fellowship from Ohio in 1998. It was at this time that the couple decided to start the new phase in their life by planning a family. Packing off their stuff to Columbus they decided to visit India once; Anuradha once wanted to visit her mother to take her blessings, before starting off the new phase.

Everything seemed perfect, for the fairy-tale story.

But Saha had no inkling on what was coming and how his life was about to change forever in the next few days.

The tragedy and the fight

It was during their short visit to Kolkata that Anuradha developed a simple skin rash from an allergic reaction to a drug. For treatment she consulted Dr. Sukumar Mukherjee, who was quite well known as one of the best doctors in the city. Dr. Mukherjee advised a drug called ‘Depomedrol’ , in a manner which was truly baffling.  'Depomedrol' is a long standing drug normally used for extreme cases of asthma or arthritis, and  given at a maximum dose of 40-120 mg at 1-2 weeks interval. However, Anuradha was given that about 15 times it's normal usage. 

Her condition worsened alarmingly since then and she was eventually shifted to Breach Candy Hospital in Mumbai. A few day later, she breathed her last.


Saha with his wife Anuradha  in happier times 
I am a doctor myself, when I was told about this I was in a daze standing outside the hospital room. I knew she was dead, but refused to believe it. When I entered the room, I saw the monitor was blank, but, maybe I was hallucinating, as I saw her sitting there and talking to me..Just telling me, that don’t give up Kunal...Don’t you ever give up...”, says Saha a little emotionally. He was distraught after the incident.  All their plans and dreams shattered in a matter of days.

It would have been normal to go into a shell, and move on to his normal life. But Kunal Saha didn't and decided to fight it out; to take on the doctors who were responsible for his wife’s death.

However, that wasn’t to be easy. Saha soon realized that there is a whole nexus that is being maintained. The fact that he filed a criminal case against Dr. Sukumar Mukherjee and two other accused Doctors (Dr. Baidyanath Halder and Abani Roychodhury), would amount to nothing. As Saha says, the High Court rejected his appeal and the doctors roamed free continuing with their jobs normally. “I could see the jigsaw unfolding before my eyes and I understood that the doctors were being backed by the West Bengal Medical Council (WBMC) who in turn were supported by the Medical Council of India (MCI). It was obvious that there was a whole network at place here, and even if one of the biggies went down the whole system would be affected, more names would spill out; thus the backing and brushing up of things under the carpet," he says.  Clearly Saha now had to fight the entire medical system in the country. However Saha was not to give up so easily.

On 30th December 2001 he went on to form People for Better Treatment (PBT), in Kolkata; an organization whose main aim is to eradicate medical negligence and promote corruption-free healthcare in India. This is what gave Dr. Saha’s fight the impetus he was so desperately seeking.  Under the PBT’s wings, with efficient people under him, Dr. Saha restarted his fight against the doctors and refiled his case in the apex court.  Thus commenced a long ranging fight, and in a historic judgment on 7th August 2009 the Supreme Court  found four doctors and Advanced Medicare Research Institute(AMRI) guilty on accounts of negligence in medical treatment which eventually led to Anuradha Saha’s death.

It was a significant step in Saha’s fight. However, strangely enough, the medical practicing right of the doctors was not snatched and neither were they jailed or sentenced.  This soured Saha's small success somewhat. As he dug deeper, more names kept tumbling out and the fight continues to date.

The cause, the solution and the hope

“I am part of the problem too. I was selfish. Until it happened to me it didn’t bother me," says the man with grim honesty.  But nevertheless he feels that more than the solidarity shown to him by some of the doctors, he would rather prefer them to give them their support in person, as it would make his case look much stronger. But no one wants to take the risk.  So how do we change all this? What can be the solution?

The main problem, says Dr. Saha, is the whole administration which needs an overhaul and more importantly the mentality of the doctors and the entire medical system.

Says Kolkata based physician D.P. Mullick, “Dr. Saha is not just fighting for his wife, this is a fight for every citizen who does not want to have a similar fate. It is the responsibility of the medical authorities and the state to take care of the patients. Unfortunately in today’s age that does not happen. Hopefully Saha’s fight would change that and make our medical system more accountable.”

Being an American citizen as well, Dr. Saha understands the basic difference between the two systems. “In America there is accountability, and humanity when treating their patients,” informs Saha. Furthermore he says that before the medical system the Indian judiciary too needs reformation to support the people in getting justice done effectively.

However he is getting some support from different quarters as senior Kolkata lawyer Mr. Alok Mitra says, “Dr .Kunal Saha’s case is a good case.I believe under the circumstances and considering the facts of the situation, we can expect some positive outcome of the judgment."

Kunal Saha thus still harbours hope that things will change eventually, and he along with PBT will try and make this country clean of similar cases like his.

The Fight continues…

Cases like Dr. Saha's are extremely rare; someone who has fought for 13 years relentlessly, and intends to do so till his last breath.  Staying in America, doing his research in HIV/AIDS, coming here regularly for his case, and managing the affairs of PBT too must be taxing, mentally and physically, but Saha finds his motivation; his love for his wife.  “For me Anuradha can never be dead. I have a big house there in America, and she stays with me.  Our meeting was a pre-scripted story; it was destiny. As if someone wanted me to do this. If I win this case it would perhaps set an example for others to be careful about. I hope I can just make this country a better place, so that children won’t have to die unnecessarily due to some ignorant people. Anuradha always wanted that,"says Saha .

While we wait for the Supreme Court Judgment and hope that it goes in the right direction, one thing is for certain, that Kunal Saha will not give up.  He is already turned into an inspirational figure for many suffering from fate similar to his.

Dr. Saha can be described both as the man who fought the system and the husband who loves his wife and is trying to bring her justice. One can learn from people like him, that no matter what we should never give up hope.  No matter what we should  keep fighting; until the very end. 


8 comments:

  1. Really an inspirational article about destiny, love, fight for justice...
    Happy, as on this day, Dr. Saha fetched justice for his beloved wife...
    Keep Burning Bright Bhavesh... :)
    Regards,
    Yuvraj Patil, Nashik, Maharashtra

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Yuvraj,

      Many thanks for taking out time and going through my article. This story really took a lot out of me and I am glad that people are reading and connecting to it. I would be interviewing Mr. Saha again in a few days time and update a new story on his; after the Supreme Court's notice to AMRI for compensating Mr. Saha with 5.96 crores. Please do read it when you get time.

      Thanks again for your comment; I really value it. Do keep reading my stuff when you have time (I have plenty more stories in this blog).

      Delete
  2. Hi, probably our entry may be off topic but anyways, I have been surfing around your blog and it looks very professional. It’s obvious you know your topic and you

    appear fervent about it. I’m developing a fresh blog plus I’m struggling to make it look good, as well as offer the best quality content. I have learned much at your

    web site and also I anticipate alot more articles and will be coming back soon. Thanks you.




    Medical Negligence

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hello,
      Thank you very much for your kind comments. I really appreciate the fact that you took out time and went through my writings. Please do keep reading my writing as I have many more write-ups planned to publish. I am also very keen to see your blog; do share it with me whenever possible.

      Thanks once again.

      Bhavesh Bhimani

      Delete
  3. Dear Bhavesh,
    I just happened to read your article. It is a truly inspirational story for fighting for the justice no matter what the impediment on the way. I myself a victim of the medical criminal negligence and I really draw up inspiration after reading your blog.

    Thanks for sharing.

    Regards
    Anusha.B

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you Anusha. For taking time to read my blog and commenting. I really appreciate it.
      I am sorry to hear about what happened to you due to medical negligence. This is a rampant thing in our country today and needs to be addressed. What happened to Dr Kunal was shattering. He eventually won the case but will never ever get his loved one back. And there are thousands of others who suffer the same fate every day and we never her about them. Hope this changes someday.

      If it is okay with you, please do tell me more about your issue. (Mail me at bhawesh_bhimani@yahoo.co.in)

      Regards,

      Bhavesh Bhimani

      Delete
    2. Dear Bhavesh,

      I have mailed you my issue of how my mother was literally killed by Dr Prabu Hematologist, at Apollo hospitals Main Road Chennai in the name of treatment.

      Thanks

      Regards
      Anusha.B

      Delete
  4. Dear Bhavesh,

    This is my horrific story of medical negligence

    My mother went to apollo hospital for left ear pain (she was his patient. At that time we had not gone for hemato problem we had gone there for ENT problem. He admitted her under him for obvious revenue target reasons). For first 7 days there was no treatment only pain killers were administered. On 7th day MRI was taken. In fact, we wanted to get discharged as her left ear pain subsided to a great extend and the decision was also told to this wicked fellow Dr Prabu. On seeing a lesion in right maxilla sinus (which we explained him it is a known condition) in MRI, he suddenly started a invasive anti fungal treatment with (Amphotericin B and Voriconozole drugs at high dozes) which is high risk with high mortality rate and astronomically high cost (more than 1 crore treatment) without even informing us. He had not even spoken about biopsy. With a simple radiology evidence he presumed it is invasive fungal inspite of the fact ENT ruled out as invasive fungal. Within 3 days of medicine, all her organ (her kidney, liver etc) was compromised and I see her dying everyday. Before starting the treatment (which is without our knowledge), her blood report, kidney function, liver function were all good. Only on the 4th day of the treatment, we came to know, he had started such a poisonous drug. He was making every body to believe that fungal is causing all this damage. All her organ shattered and battered on account of the treatment making her unfit even for biopsy. I had agreed for biopsy even in such a condition, just to disprove him that it was not a invasive fungal. Biopsy result came negative for fungal strains. Our bills substantially rised to 14 lacs in just 13 days after the treatment (which is started with no evidence). The worst is that he continued this drug even after negative fungal strain. The poisonous effect of the drug had pushed her to coma and we had run out of money and we had to shift her to govt hospital and atlast she died on account of unwarranted anti fungal treatment. He actually murdered her thinking that we are vulnerable (mother with only a son and single daughter). We even lost our father few years back and now we are literally orphan. I consulted many imminent doctors, everybody said that no doctor in the whole world would start such a high risk treatment based on the radiology evidence (that too without getting our informed consent) which is not even a remote evidence. If somebody had done this, he must be the brainless, senseless and total disregard to human life. His only motive is to stick with the Apollo hospital by meeting target. He enacted the plot with the help of CCU doctor Raymond and ID specialist Ram Gopal Krishnan.His knowledge even in his own filed of hematology is very little as induced by us from his conduct. The patient come to him on account of the fact he is the only consultant in main Apollo in hematology. The imprint of the traumatic experience haunts me everyday and i am wrecked to the bottom and it is not far away for me to breathe my last. Every thing mentioned is true to my heart and I can show all the evidences for the same.

    ReplyDelete