Shaheen Begum, an 18-year-old girl from Rampur in Uttar Pradesh who was at the city’s St Stephen’s Hospital for a corrective surgery, was disappointed when she had to spend Eid earlier this month away from home.
“Instead, I spent the day with the doctors and other hospital employees. They are everything to me now,” says Shaheen, who had lived with bent knees and hip almost all her life after developing polio in her infancy.
She is undergoing osteotomy — a surgery to shorten, lengthen or change the alignment of misshaped bones — of the knees and hip at Tis Hazari hospital, which is the only place in India with a dedicated ward for free corrective surgeries for people with deformities associated with polio.
Supported by Rotary International, the polio ward at the hospital caters to people from across the country, though most of its patients are from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar where polio flourished till two years ago.
Like her, Neelam Dahiya, a 27-year-old anganwadi worker from Nangloi in west Delhi, is there to get her leg and foot deformity corrected. She has been going through corrective procedures for the past two years as part of multiple surgeries she has to undergo at various stages to be able to walk again. “I have full faith in the doctor that I’ll be able to stand on my feet one day,” she said.
India has not reported a new polio case since January 13, 2011, but the eight-bed ward at the hospital is always full of people who developed the disease decades ago and have lived with deformities ever since. Most people getting treated are above 18 years old and the hospital works at giving them a new lease of life through corrective surgeries.
“We are committed to ensure the dignity of living and change the quality of life for polio-affected people. The primary aim of polio-corrective surgeries is to make people as independent as possible. We believe in making them stand on their feet without replacing their knees, as practiced by other private hospitals,” said Dr Mathew Varghese, the head of orthopaedics at the hospital.
The plastic-distraction technique used to straighten the legs of polio-affected patients is a procedure developed at St Stephen’s. The curved parts of leg are connected with a rod using a screw or buckle. “This is a special technique for correcting bent legs. The patient is trained to turn the buckle daily, which allows the rod to extend and as a result straighten the limbs. It is a very slow process and takes between six weeks and two months to repair the limbs,” the doctor explained.
The other few corrective surgeries include recurvation osteotomy for recurvative deformity where the knee bends the wrong way, the ilizarov technique for lengthening or reshaping limbs, and arthrodesis for paralysed or deformed joints. There are other corrective surgeries like paralytic scoliosis for repairing twisted spine and transfer of tendons to cure paralysis of thumb or ape-thumb.
“Walking without support is possible with surgical procedures but callipers are given to support the limbs. Callipers are important to prevent deformation after surgery. If a patient stops using callipers then after two or three months, the limbs may get deformed again. We train them to use callipers at the hospital and also repair them free of cost,” added Dr Varghese.
Apart from conducting 600 reconstructive surgeries per year, the hospital gives food to the patients and their relatives.