“40% patients going to any hospital/clinic for treatment have chest ailments, whether they know it or not! Chronic Obstructive Airway Disease (COPD) has become the number one killer, thanks to our air pollution” says Dr. Rajesh Swarnakar, Lung Specialist and Director of Getwell Hospital and Research Institute which he founded with 5 other Doctors of Nagpur.
“What is worse” Rajesh shares with us ” is that there is self-created pollution within our homes too. The ‘aggarbattis’ we burn profusely and the ‘dhoops’ can seriously pollute closed spaces.The mosquito coil we burn is like inhaling the smoke of 100 cigarettes at once!! Electric coils, liquids are bad too – they are poisonous, literally. Better to use mosquito nets or even apply mosquito repellent creams than use these.”
The situation at Diwali gets so bad and so many chest patients come in that Dr. Swarnakar hasn’t celebrated Diwali night at home for the last 3 years. He is so busy seeing patients!
But other than at such ‘acute’ times, treating COPD patients, specially kids, is a time consuming job, says the Doctor. Not just diagnostic tests, a lot of research and history-taking needs to be done.
Take the instance of this boy. He had chronic cough – but it somewhat eased when he stayed home during holidays. On spending time questioning him Dr. Swarnakar realized he was commuting to school in an auto which probably used petrol laced with kerosene… the fumes can be toxic, and are discharged whenever the auto engine is ‘revved’. The boy’s parents were advised to shift him to a van or a bus to take him to school. He got ‘cured’ almost instantly after the change was made!
But city/ metro air pollution scene is so bad that there is a constant rise in Asthma cases. Even in a city like Nagpur, 15% kids suffer from asthma today.
Dr. Swarnakar strongly advises parents to get Influenza vaccinations for their children. These have to be repeated every year after the age of 3+.
“I myself take it every year” he says.
Though Getwell Hospital is today a boon for Nagpurians, Swarnakar’s family did not at first live here. When Rajesh was born, his father was working in Raipur and they lived near a refugee camp for Bangladeshis. This was in 1971 – just after the Indo-Pak war when Bangladesh was created. Rajesh grew up looking at the travails and suffering of the refugees and decided he would be a Doctor when he grew up.
Later his father shifted to NEERI and Rajesh studied at the famous Somalwar High School which must have ‘incubated’ many future Doctors with their high merit rate. Rajesh was one of them. Later he joined IGMCH to do his M.B.B.S. He did his post graduation from AIMS Delhi and later did FCCP from USA.
He and his wife Archana, an Opthalmogist, initially worked in Meenakshi Mission hospital in Madurai before coming back to Nagpur with the dream of starting their own Hospital and serving people of Central India.
His love for research and academics, apart from patient care, saw his joining the Indian Chest Society,of which he is currently the Treasurer. He has also founded Academy for Ethical Research Training (AECRT) and Centre for Excellence in Clinical Research (CECR).
He strongly advocates creating a national Registry of patients in India suffering from various ailments, specially chest related which can show trends and be valuable tools for Research.
“There was a time when India gave ‘inhalers’ to the world. Ayurveda has proven that the humble ‘Dhatura’ plant is very beneficial for congestion patients.
( But Dr. Swarnakar strongly discourages Respiratory patients from going in for rigorous Yoga ‘breathing exercises’ like Kapalbhati which is becoming very popular. “You will be creating stress for an already weak respiratory system” he warns ” “and it could lead to more damage rather than curing anything”.)
He rues the fact that most Indians aren’t very health conscious and the governments of the day also do not seem to be giving a very high priority to Health care and maintenance of Govt. run hospitals.
There was a time when the Govt. Medical College and Hospital at Nagpur was one of the best in the country and had reputed Doctors associated with it – even working full time. Many patients preferred to go there rather than going to private hospitals.
“We need to revive our public hospitals since health care is going to get more and more expensive because of the high cost of many life-saving drugs which are imported and rising cost of diagnostics also” opines Rajesh.
“We are still very far from being ‘Health insurance driven’ – which also, comes with its own set of problems” he says.
For chest patients there is a very pertinent Lung Function Test which can show the remaining lung capacity of a patient. This test should be made accessible to more and more patients, is Dr. Swarnakar’s ardent hope.
“But at the same time, we cannot push everything on to the government! We have to act and do our bit too – so Getwell has this system where poor patients are catered to as well with subsidized costs. Even free.
Getwell Hospital holds free monthly check-up and diagnosis camps and takes responsibility of long term care of deserving patients, even giving them free medicines if required. A riksha puller is one such patient receiving free care.
In their survey of Nagpur patients, they found a high incidence of people from a specific area -Jhinga Takli suffering from COPD. More investigation revealed that many people living their were professional cooks! Continuously inhaling oily fumes and working in hot temperatures was taking a toll.
Once this cause was discovered, people were asked to take some precautions and make changes in their cooking habits too for relief.
This is how Dr. Swarnakar and his dedicated team is striving to make a difference to Nagpur. His whole family is with him on this mission with his retired father too helping him manage the hospital.
Rajesh and Archana have two daughters, Akansha and Advika. “I am lucky that God has blessed me with two lovely daughters” Rajesh says simply. He does not subscribe to the average Indians’ hankering for sons at all. His two sisters Sunita and Sangita are both academicians and successful professionals in their own right.
When Rajesh has the time he loves to travel with his family. After a strenuous working day, he loves listening to music – though the happy voice of a cured patient is real music to his ears!!
—Sunita Mudaliar (Associate Editor)