Be an organ donor; you don’t need organs in heaven: Dr Ravi Wankhede


Sneha Shah | Aug 5, 2018 20:08

Dr Ravi Wankhede (Photo by: Abhishek Thakare)

When it comes to organ donation in Nagpur, Dr Ravi Wankhede is a name to be reckoned with. The former Indian Air Force doctor, who himself donated his kidney to a friend in 2009, since the last six years is actively involved in the process of organ donation and spreading awareness about the same. Dr Wankhede is the Honourary Director and Centre Head of MOHAN (Multi Organ Harvesting Aid Network) in Nagpur and has also been nominated by Government of Maharashtra as an expert member in Zonal Transplant Coordination Centre in the city. In an interview with Nation Next, Dr Ravi Wankhede speaks about organ donation, the problems in the process, the need of awareness about organ donation and more…

When and how exactly did you get associated with the cause of organ donation?

In 2009, when I donated a kidney to a Muslim friend of mine, many newspapers reported it. During a function, where I was being felicitated, I met Dr Sunil Shroff who is the Founding Trustee of MOHAN Foundation. He told me about the foundation and explained to me the process of deceased organ donation. I found it to be very interesting but at the same time felt strange realizing that, most of the doctors in Nagpur were not even aware about such a thing. I researched about deceased organ transplantation in Nagpur, but couldn’t find any such facility. Dr Shroff, then told me about ZTCC and its functioning. A new ZTCC committee was formed in Maharashtra and I was elected as a member in it. Even after the committee was formed, there were a lot of problems in execution of organ donation process.

Dr Shroff, then explained to me that for any transplant, a lot of paper work and formalities need to be dealt with. For things like these, a transplant coordinator is required. There were hardly any such trained coordinators in Nagpur. Transplant coordinators are the backbone of any organ transplantation process. These are the people who act as a bridge between the doctor and the donor’s family.

Dr Shroff told me that people need to be trained to be able to be transplant coordinators and MOHAN foundation was the only foundation in Asia to provide such training. With Dr Shroff’s permission, in 2012, we conducted a training session for transplant coordinators in Nagpur. Within just two months after the training, a successful organ transplant was done at Wokhardt Hospital in Nagpur. Under Dr Shroff’s guidance, I then started a branch of MOHAN Foundation in Nagpur.

In how many cases of deaths or a person being brain-dead, does the patient’s family decide to donate his/her organs? How difficult is to convince them to do the same? 

It’s a very difficult task to convince the family that the patient is brain-dead. A transplant coordinator plays a very crucial role in the counseling process. When the first organ transplant was done in Nagpur, the donor was an 18-year-old boy who went through an accident and was eventually declared brain-dead. Since the boy’s father was an army man, it was not a difficult task to convince him to donate his son’s vital organs.

Once the person is brain-dead, he/she is dead, but because of the fluctuation of heart rate displayed on the ventilator, the person seems to be alive. When we come to know that the patient may not survive, we start making a frank conversation with the family members. We explain them the concept of a person being brain-dead and also tell them as to why the organs should be donated in such cases. The person, whom we decide speak to, should be the most important person in the family and should be someone who understands such procedures. Such a person can convince other family members with ease and make them think practically at such an emotional moment. Recently, in Nagpur, in at least seven to eight cases, people voluntarily came forward for donating organs of their brain-dead family member. Some months back, a six-year-old girl, performed in a play on organ donation in her school, where I was invited too. After her unfortunate death, her parents readily donated her heart, liver, kidney and eyes.

Some months back, writing about liver donation, you wrote in a Facebook post as to how an organ recipient died due to lack of proper services. What  facilities does Nagpur lack when it comes to organ donation and transplantation?

Till some years back, when any brain-dead case was reported in Nagpur, only donation of kidney was looked after. Now, whenever any brain-dead case is reported, organs are allocated within different places in the state as per a waiting list and patient’s stability to receive the organ. The stability of patient is the most important part in the process. The stability needs to be ensured by intensive care doctors. In Nagpur, lack of medical facilities and carelessness by doctors is a problem at times.

Now, speaking about the case I wrote about, liver or heart donations to Pune and Mumbai are comparatively easier. But in this particular case, an organ was to be taken to Aurangabad. The transplant was unsuccessful as the organ didn’t reach on time due to connectivity issues. During the transport of the organ, care must be taken that the blood circulation doesn’t stop and within five to six hours the organ is transplanted. For such purposes, commercial flights are of no help as they are not usually available on time. I think more air ambulances should be introduced.

What do you think is the biggest problem during the entire process of organ donation? What steps or initiatives should be taken to make people more informed about organ donation?

There are a lot of myths and superstitions among even the most educated people class of the society. A superstition like ‘donating eyes will result in permanent blindness in the next life’ is still believed by many. Also, people are not very aware. Many people think that during the process of skin donation, skin from head to toe is donated. This is not at all true. Skin is taken from side and back of the thighs, which are less exposed areas of the body. I always say that ‘Organs are not required in Heaven’ as nowhere in the religious books it’s written that organs should not be donated. People should be made aware about organ donation through different workshops and seminars.

Over the years, you’ve have conducted multiple workshops concerning organ donation in Nagpur. Has there been a rise in successful organ donations in the city?

In a recent case, three livers in six days were transplanted successfully. This has been the biggest success so far. As per statistics, in India, every year, there is a requirement of about two lakh kidneys compared to five to six thousand which are actually donated. 90% of the donations are through live donors and 10% donations are from the brain-dead patients. I think the same ratio should be reversed. Currently, in India’s, the ratio of organ donation is 0.58 donations per annum. If this ratio even reaches to 1 donation per annum, country’s organ needs can be satisfied. Things are changing for better gradually. In 2013, there was one successful deceased organ donation in Nagpur, in 2014 the number increased to three, in 2015 it increased to four and in 2017 the number reached to 14. Apart from kidneys, liver, skin and many other organs and tissues are being donated now. 

How do youngsters perceive the idea of organ donation?

Many youngsters are now aware about organ donation but these things also depend on parents. Usually parents suppress these ideas. They think they might lose their children with such ideology. 

In the population of billions in India, how important it is for people to realise the need of organ donation? Even today, there are not enough awareness campaigns concerning organ donation. What do you expect from the government regarding the same? 

Government is taking several measures to spread the awareness too. I recently read that short videos on this topic will be shown in movie halls. Having said that, I feel that instead of marching in rallies and cutting ribbons, the politicians should themselves take a pledge of organ donation to inspire others. Many influential public figures and politicians like Jyoti Basu have done the same in the past.