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Reaching Out to the Stars

Child of the Mountains

Sai Healing Touch
Little Dorjee Sherpa and his mother

From high up in the Himalayas where he stays, Dorjee Sherpa says the stars look pretty close. It is as if one could just stretch out a hand to the dark blanket above and scoop out a handful of them. The fascination with the night sky seems to have given the nine-year-old a desire to reach out to the stars and the unknown beyond.

“When I become a rocket scientist one day, I will send many Indian rockets out there to the stars,” he says. Sitting next to him on the bed, caressing his parted hair, is his young mother, Lalita Sherpa. She smiles. She knows her son, a brilliant student, can do it now.

A Fault Within

The sutured wounds on Dorjee’s chest are just healing. A deep red scar is still visible from in between the folds of his blue hospital gown. It runs right down the middle of his puny chest. But on Dorjee’s fair, round face, right beneath his small nose, dances a gleeful pink smile. There is no more fear, just relief, and in his dark eyes is hope - the hope of a new tomorrow.

Dorjee is from Lamata Sherpa Gaon, Darjeeling, West Bengal (East India). He has a sense of quick repartee, and the winsome impishness that children of his age naturally possess. What Dorjee did lack, however, was a normal human heart. He had a hole in the heart.

A Mother’s Anguish

Lalita Sherpa suspected something amiss with her son’s heart right from the start. “His heart would beat hard. I feared something was wrong,” she said.

The concerned mother took a month-old Dorjee to a local doctor in Darjeeling. The doctor dismissed Lalita’s fears. “It is nothing, just gas. After you feed him milk, put him on your shoulder and pat his back. He will belch, and he would be all right,” the doctor said. Lalita was not convinced, but she remained quiet.

When Dorjee was one year old, his mother took him to a hospital in Darjeeling, this time, about 11km away from his home. Upon examining Dorjee, the doctors found that his heart did not function the way a normal human heart did. They heard the measured “lub dub”, but with a distinct murmur.

The doctors confirmed Lalita’s worst fears. Dorjee had a hole in the heart, in clinical terms, a Ventricular Septal Defect (VSD).  “The sooner you get it operated, the better,” the doctors advised.

A Parent’s Privation

The tiny hamlet of Lamata Sherpa Gaon, adjoining the famous Lopchu tea gardens, is wedged between the famous hill resort of Darjeeling on one side and the placid township of Kalimpong on the other side. The village folk depend primarily on manual labour and agriculture for subsistence. Education for children is not a liability in these parts. But health is. For any major ailment or surgery, the patients need to visit either Kolkata or Bangalore.

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spacer Sai Healing Touch
Darjeeling is famous for its tea
The hillside town of Kalimpong

“Do not go to Kolkata,” the doctors told Lalita, “It would be better if you went straight to Bangalore. The surgery would be expensive, though. You may have to spend around Rs. 2 to 3 lakhs,” the doctors warned.

Dorjee’s father, Lacheling Sherpa, is a farmer. He grows carrots, potatoes, beet root, and cauliflower in the family’s piece of land. The income from agriculture is too meagre to sustain the family. Dorjee’s parents, therefore, work as manual labourers in others’ fields. Their family income is irregular, scaling up in the harvest season, and slumping in the lean seasons. There was no way Dorjee’s parents could afford a whopping sum of Rs. 3 lakh for the heart surgery. So they let things be.

Crippling Cardiac

As Dorjee grew up, he could not run, frolic or make merry, matters which came naturally to him. Instead, he watched, sitting on the edge of his school playground, as his friends romped about.

Sai Healing Touch
With his ailment, it was hard for Dorjee to just be a kid

He was also forced to take an exemption from physical training activities. “Even the slightest exertion would have me panting for breath,” Dorjee said. 

In Darjeeling, it is cold and rainy almost throughout the year. Summer comes to Darjeeling as an evanescent guest in April. By the end of June, it is already on its way out. But even when it is hot, it never gets beyond 15 degrees Celsius.

The weather only worsened Dorjee’s woes. According to the surgeon, due to the defect in his heart, more blood would enter Dorjee’s lungs, which would make his lungs vulnerable to cold and cough. For Dorjee, the cold climes of Darjeeling made matters worse. He would frequently suffer from cough and cold. Needless to say, the cold climate of Darjeeling kept the perky chap frequently down with a debilitating cold and cough.

Dorjee pulled on somehow till he was nine, but after that life started getting unmanageable. His heart would pound hard; he would be unable to even walk a few paces without getting tired. He coughed incessantly. A bright pupil, Dorjee, just in the fourth standard, could concentrate no longer on his studies. He would always be restless.

Lalita and Lacheling desperately wanted their son treated, but could not think of a way out. They contacted several hospitals in Bangalore, but received the same reply, everywhere. “The surgery would cost at least Rs. 2 lakh to 3 lakhs.”

The Benefactor Next Door

Dorjee’s neighbour was a devotee of Bhagavan Sri Sathya Sai Baba. On several occasions, Lalita had heard bhajans being sung in the house. Oftentimes, Lalita had seen men and women in blue and yellow scarves (Sevadals) assembling at her neighbour’s house and then dispersing to clean the village roads.

Not only that, Lalita had also heard something about a hospital in some remote part of Andhra Pradesh, associated with the Sai Samithi (Organization), which dispensed treatment wholly free of cost. Lalita had her doubts. Still she decided to ask.

The reply Lalita got from her neighbour, whom she calls Sai bhaiyya (Sai brother), thrilled her immensely. She was told of a super-specialty hospital where an entire treatment, inclusive of the surgery, medicines, diet, and hospital stay, was free of cost. It was the first time that she had heard the name Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Medical Sciences, Prashantigram.

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Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Medical Sciences, Prasanthi Nilayam

Completely taken by surprise, Lalita shared the news with her husband. He too received it with utter disbelief. “It is difficult for anyone to believe that there exists a hospital, which performs heart surgeries without charging even a single pie,” Lalita said. 

Both Lalita and Lacheling were so impressed that they wanted to know more about the various activities of the Sri Sathya Sai Seva Organisation. Sai bhaiyya, therefore, told them everything.

Fixing Holes and Hearts

The Sherpa family rushed to Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Medical Sciences, Prashantigram, and admitted Dorjee. On December 12, 2008, Dorjee was operated upon. The moment Dr. Trushar Gajjar, the surgeon, cut open Dorjee’s chest, he found the heart too large for the young lad’s age. The hole had aggravated the pressure on the heart causing it to expand abnormally.

Sai Healing Touch
This aspiring rocket scientist can now
reach for the stars!

Yet, could the hole in the heart stand a chance when the Divine Physician had already set His heart on making Dorjee whole? The surgery was completed in one and a half hours, after which Dorjee remained in the Intensive Care Unit for three days.

Dorjee’s surgery was the 1,352nd hole in the heart to be operated upon successfully, ever since the inception of the Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Medical Sciences, Prashantigram.

“Though Dorjee had come late for the operation, the situation had not gone out of control yet. I am confident that Dorjee will be able to lead a perfectly normal life after the surgery,” the surgeon said. The hole in the heart was closed successfully.   

Elsewhere, another heart was opening to the magic of Bhagavan’s Love. Filled with gratitude for the priceless gift of well-being Bhagavan had bestowed on his son, Lacheling, Dorjee’s father, decided to, somehow, try and repay Bhagavan for His overwhelming grace in his own small way.

He came as a part of the Darjeeling North Sevadal to Puttaparthi, and served at a sevadal point near Brahmanapalli village, while his son got treated at the hospital.

Dreaming of the Stars Again

Soon, Dorjee will be back in the mountains. And will be running and frolicking, verily reclaiming his childhood.  Yes, he will be close to the stars again, dreaming of becoming a rocket scientist one day. Only this time, it will not just remain a dream.

~ Heart2Heart Team
in association with SSSIHMS

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Vol 7 Issue 03 - MARCH 2009
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