Police, ambulances drive their hearts out to save lives in Delhi
Traffic police have organised 44 green corridors--traffic-free passages to transport organs--in Delhi since January 2017. Each time a life was saved.Updated: Oct 01, 2018 12:06 IST
His seat belt tightly strapped to his body and his hands firmly on the steering wheel, Jai Kumar looks tense as he waits in a Maruti Ertiga at the Indira Gandhi International airport. Today, a man’s life depends on his driving skills--he has to transport a beating heart from the airport to All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) where a transplant is scheduled in an hour.
The Delhi Traffic Police have arranged a ‘green corridor’ — a special route that will give Kumar an uninterrupted passage during the peak traffic hour in the morning. But still, there is no margin of error.
“I have driven in a green corridor once before, but I cannot get rid of the fear of getting stuck in a traffic jam,” says Kumar. The conversation is cut short midway as a doctor carrying a heart in an organ preservation box hurriedly emerges from the airport and paces towards the waiting vehicle.
The route is not very different from a VIP movement corridor — a familiar irritant in Delhi — but causes barely five minutes of inconvenience to other motorists along the route. Escorted by three police vans and four motorcycles – sirens blaring constantly and traffic officers on the way frantically waving aside obstructing vehicles—the vehicle hits speeds of up to 100km per hour to cover a 14km journey in 12 minutes.
In the end, a patient undergoes a successful heart transplant.
This is no longer a rare occurrence in the National Capital Region (NCR). What began with a celebrated 32km journey in 29 minutes from a Gurgaon hospital to one in south Delhi’s Okhla in January 2015 has now become a regular way of saving lives.
Since January 2017, traffic police have arranged 44 green corridors in Delhi at an average of over two such trips every month. “On each occasion, a life was saved,” says Alok Kumar, joint commissioner of police (Delhi Traffic Police), proud of the fact that every green corridor has been managed successfully.
Kumar says that never has a request for a green corridor been turned down. “We can arrange green corridors within 30 minutes of intimation. There is no margin for error,” says Kumar.
These special corridors are necessary to transport organs such as hearts, livers, kidneys or eyes after harvesting them from a dying or brain-dead person to a patient in another hospital.
Time is of utmost importance in these transplants. A heart, for example, needs to be transplanted within four hours — the earlier the better, to improve the chances of success.
“It takes six-seven minutes to harvest a heart. Another two, three minutes are lost in placing the organ in a bag and rushing it to the ambulance. Transplanting the heart into the receiver’s body takes 40-60 minutes. We have three hours for transporting the heart from one hospital to another, so we focus on saving time there,” says Dr Kewal Krishan, director of heart transplants and ventricular assist devices at Max Super Speciality hospital.
Dr ZS Meharwal, director of cardiovascular surgery at Fort is Escorts Heart Institute, says the timing of the ambulance weigh son his minda she prepares totransplant the hear tina new body .“I am relieved only after the heart actually beats inside the body after an hour or so after the transplant, but it is the movement of the organ from one hospital to another that occupies my mind until the heart is handed over to me,” he says.
Every hospital with a facility to carry out a transplant has a dedicated team tasked with reducing this time. The organ could be moved from one hospital to another within in a city or could be intercity.
Saurabh Chaturvedi, who manages these tasks for Fortis Hospital, says he has easy access to Delhi’s top traffic police officers. He has had the traffic police arrange a green corridor by just intimating them through WhatsApp. “I have never encountered red-tapism,” Chaturvedi says.
Police say they finalise a route the moment they are alerted. “We look for the shortest possible route, but have two other routes as backup. We then consult the traffic inspectors on all the three routes to know the status of traffic,” says joint commissioner Kumar. Thereafter, cranes are stationed on all the three routes to tow away other vehicles that may break down on the path.
The next step is to rope in traffic officers at all the junctions along the three routes. “At least three officers are deployed at every traffic junction on the three chosen routes,” says Kumar. Through the wireless system, the traffic inspectors accompanying the organ constantly relay the live location of the vehicle carrying the organ.
Unlike VIP routes, an ambulance in a green corridor moves alongside public vehicles. When the ambulance is supposed to pass through a junction, the police switch to manually managing the traffic signals. “We manually stop the traffic on perpendicular roads and provide a free passage for the ambulance along the entire route. So disruptions are never for more than five minutes at any junction,” says Kumar.
The cavalcade includes the ambulance or a Special Utility Vehicle (SUV) carrying the organ, three police vans and four motorcycles. One van sanitises the route less than five minutes before the ambulance is to pass through. The other police vehicles accompany the ambulance to prevent vehicles from venturing into the ambulance’s lane.
The ambulances — which can hit speeds of up to 120kmph—usually travel on the right lane which is cleared seconds in advance by the police vehicles ahead.
Alkesh Kumar, an ambulance driver who has driven three such trips, says his only focus is on following the police van. “There is no need to look at the speedometer, but we often cross the 100 kmph speed mark,” says Alkesh.
There were occasions when Alkesh had his heart in his mouth. “I once remember getting stuck in Ber Sarai (south Delhi) for two-three minutes. I feared we would lose a life, but the police miraculously cleared the way,” recounts Alkesh.
The police vans guiding the ambulance are driven by some of the most skilled drivers in traffic police. “I can negotiate a sharp turn at the speed of 70kmph. The instruction for me is simple — every moment matters’,” says a traffic policeman who undertaken half-a-dozen such trips.
The entire journey is video recorded by two policemen. According to Kumar, this is to take lessons for the future and to identify any motorists who may not give way .“Though the Motor VehiclesAct has a provision for a fine of R2,000 for those who obstruct an ambulance, we do not prosecute any of them. Instead, we rely on people’ s sensitivity ,” says Kumar.
In the last four years, there have been only 10 prosecutions in Delhi for obstructing an ambulance, all of them in 2015. None of them were in the green corridors.
Rupali Choudhary, whose 41-year-old husband had to undergo a heart transplant in Saket’s Max hospital on May 18, was worried about motorists’ response. “It took only 11 minutes for the heart to travel 13 kilometres from the airport to the hospital on a Friday evening. It only meant that there were plenty of motorists willing to go through a little inconvenience to save a life,” says Choudhary.
Another woman whose 53-year-old mother had to undergo a heart transplant at Fortis hospital in June feared that the organ would be stuck in a jam from the airport at 5pm.
“I did not want to leave things to chance and tweeted to the Delhi Traffic Police to seek their help. They replied that they had already prepared a green corridor. It felt as if I had been given a new heart,” says the woman, who asked not to be named.
But the green corridors have not been without their own tense moments. While moving a heart from Max hospital in Shalimar Bagh to Saket in February last year, the ambulance found itself stuck in a long jam near Dhaula Kuan.
Dr Krishan, who was accompanying the heart on that journey, says that the traffic police swiftly cleared a 1.5km stretch of road on the opposite carriageway to take the ambulance through the wrong side. “That stretch cost us 20 minutes, but we were still able to cover the 30km distance in 42 minutes,” says the doctor.