By: Lindsey Cawood
Note: Check out the ‘Did You Know…?’ column at the end for more information on bolded words!
He lies in the fetal position on his hospital bed in Jamkhed, India (1), a poor, rural area about 200 miles east of Mumbai. A thin, pink sheet covering his body and face outlines his skeleton-like frame, revealing only an emaciated leg and swollen foot. At 4’7” and 66 pounds, the 13-year-old boy is a shadow of the robust teenager he should have been. Unable to stand or move with ease, he lies perfectly still, arms clamped tightly against his chest. His skin is stretched, sharply outlining tendons and cracks of broken, dry skin that sprawl across his leg. His birth name is unknown, but those who adore him know him simply as ”Akshay.”
Much of Akshay’s life and the path that led him to Julia Hospital remains a mystery. He was lying alone in a Mumbai city street when he was found by officers from the Gowandi Police Station in August 2012. Unable to identify his name, address, or any relatives, Akshay was held by authorities, pending release to his family; however, his family never came.
On paper, Akshay’s life begins on August 19, 2012, when he was transported to Jamkhed, a bumpy eight-hour drive from Mumbai. There, he was admitted to Matimand Niwasi Vidhyalaya, a boarding school for mentally handicapped children. Akshay began to improve steadily- he started walking, talking, and seeming to understand instructions. Over the next year and a half, Akshay showed further progress, with one report noting the boy would mingle with his peers, run, perform self-grooming, and had even developed favorite TV programs. By October of that year, a psychiatric evaluation revealed that Akshay was severely mentally disabled, with an IQ of between 25 and 30. His medical file describes him as a young boy struggling with impaired communication skills, adaptive functioning, and self-care. Although he suffered from occasional epileptic fits, Akshay was deemed in overall good health and required little medication.
In early 2014, Akshay developed diarrhea and loss of appetite, likely the cause of a gastrointestinal infection, followed by urinary and bowel incontinence. He was loaded into a rickshaw with instructions to be delivered to Julia Hospital (2), which is run by CRHP; yet, for unknown reasons, he was taken to a government-run hospital instead. Realizing Akshay’s needs were beyond the hospital’s capacities, he was transferred to Sassoon General Hospital in Pune, a four-hour drive west of Jamkhed. He stayed in Pune for about one month, yet did not improve, becoming severely malnourished and developing bedsores instead. Unable to provide relief for Akshay, Sassoon General Hospital released him back to his boarding school with a prescription for a waterbed—a common treatment in India for bedsores—but the school was unable to afford such an expenditure.
Searching for help for Akshay, the principal of Matimand Niwasi Vidhyalaya visited CRHP, soliciting funds to buy the necessary bed. Luckily, she ran into Dr. Shoba Arole, a CRHP director, who advised that Akshay immediately be admitted to the campus medical center, Julia Hospital. He has now been a patient at this center for one month, yet is still too weak to stand or move, although his bedsores have improved and his ulcers are beginning to heal.
Although he is unable to communicate verbally, Akshay is certainly not vacant. He smiles when his head is rubbed and contorts his face to direct others to maneuver his blanket. When in pain, he cries, retracts his muscles, and opens his mouth. He prefers to stay under his blanket throughout the day, but smiles at staff and seems to appreciate attention.
Although Akshay has made progress, his journey is far from over. His severe malnutrition (3) requires that he be fed every 2-3 hours, which is beyond the capabilities of his boarding school, which now serves as his home. Until Akshay is able to eat three normal meals a day, he will remain a patient at Julia Hospital.
Unfortunately, cases like Akshay’s are not uncommon. Although the majority do not end up like Akshay, orphans are much more likely to lack access to education, be trafficked, live in poverty, or be coerced into illegal activities. India’s socioeconomic factors play a large role in the future of these children. Ill health, which is often accompanied by poverty, takes the lives of some parents, but the majority are forced to abandon their children out of an inability to provide for them (4). Although the Indian government provides support to orphans until the age of 16 or 18, many of these youngsters leave government housing with no job skills or means of generating income.
CRHP is dedicated to improving the health and socioeconomic status of surrounding populations as well as individuals like Akshay. Unable to pay for his care, Julia Hospital provides treatment for Akshay, including medicine, bandages, food, and other care, free of charge, as it does to thousands of needy patients each year. If you believe in the CRHP cause or would like to help patients like Akshay, please click on a button below. A simple post on Facebook or Twitter can magnify the reach and impact of CRHP projects and greatly improve the lives of those most in need.
Since this article was written, Akshay took a turn for the worse and acquired a respiratory tract infection that took his life. While at Julia Hospital, he brought CRHP staff, his devoted friend, and many others much joy and appreciation for life. He will truly be missed.
DID YOU KNOW…?
1. In Jamkhed, India, CRHP has developed more than 300 project villages, constructed more than 900 water projects, distributed more than 17,000 artificial limbs, and enrolled more than 6,000 women in credit programs!
2. Julia Hospital’s 50-bed facility provides affordable healthcare to an underserved population of 500,000! The hospital also provides free family planning camps and serves as a site for Village Health Worker trainings.
3. Malnutrition among children is a pervasive problem in India. Nearly 50% of Indian children are underweight, while 16% fit the UNICEF definition of ‘wasted.’ CRHP’s preschool program provides Jamkhed children with two healthy meals each day, helping them grow to their full potential. http://www.unicef.org/india/children_2356.htm
4. Inability to Provide for Them- Out of the estimated 20 million orphans in India, only .3% are a result of parental death; the remaining 99.7% are the result of child abandonment, which is largely spurred by extreme poverty. http://www.soschildrensvillages.ca/india-now-home-20-million-orphans-study-finds
1. Donate to CRHP! Please be sure to write “Unheard Voices” in the notes section! http://jamkhed.org/get_involved/donate/donate
2. See more photos of Akshay! https://www.flickr.com/photos/jamkhed/sets/72157644160372931/