Lease of life to soldiers disabled in service: Mohali’s Paraplegic Rehabilitation Centre wages war on disability
Subedar Anil Kumar Jha was severely injured when he was shot in the chest on the Jammu-Kashmir border. Shifted from one hospital to the other, he was losing both movement and hope when he was brought to the Paraplegic Rehabilitation Centre, Phase 6, Mohali. “I had undergone treatment at three hospitals, I was fed up of being pitied, and had lost the will to live. But when I came here, I got a new lease of life.”
Today, Jha (64) is all smiles as he wheels himself to his desktop. “I was always interested in computers and in helping others use them to connect with the world.”
Paratrooper Prem Singh Thakur (43) also started his life afresh after he came to the centre in 2005, two years after he became quadriplegic following a fall during a diving championship at Faridabad in 2003. “I was always fond of adventure sports, but I had no inkling that would be my last adventure,” he muses. Thakur remained in hospitals for two years before being brought to Mohali. “I started getting better ever since I came here in 2005. With physiotherapy, I have even regained the use of my hands,” he smiles.
They are just two of the many valiant soldiers at the centre. Once not long ago, they used to guard our borders, today they are battling disability to become self-reliant and find new ways to contribute to our world.
Thakur speaks for many when he says, “The environment here is encouraging and we all share our pain with each other.”
BIRTH OF AN IDEA
The Indian army leadership was inspired by a spinal cord injuries centre for armed personnel in Europe to set up similar centres in India. Col Jaswant Singh Spehia (retd), director of the institute, recounts, “Army mooted the idea of a spinal cord injury centre for soldiers to the Government of India, which led to the first centre at Kirkee in 1974. After that, it was decided to come up with another one for troops in the northern region.”
Paraplegic Home (North) was established at Mohali in 1978 and commissioned on November 30, 1978 by Gen OP Malhotra, the then Chief of the Army Staff. The institution came up on 10 acres gifted by the Punjab government. The construction commenced with an initial grant of 39 lakh from the National Defence Fund.
REHABILITATION, THE AIM
The aim was to provide post-operative care and rehabilitation to those treated at the Command Hospital and other medical institutions in the north.
Today, almost 40 years on, the centre has been home to many soldiers who had almost given up on life. Workers at the centre narrate the story of a sepoy from Assam, who stayed at the centre for 29 years after he became paralysed due to an accident on duty when he was only 25. It’s only recently that his family took him back to Assam.
Col Spehia says, “The objective of the institute is to empower and rehabilitate quadriplegic and paraplegic ex-servicemen (ESM) and make them self-reliant with the help of physiotherapy, sports and meditation.”
When Col Spehia joined the centre in 2002, it had a strength of 15. “Now there are 29 inmates of whom 25 are married. They stay here with their families in the quarters,” says the director.
ROAD TO RECOVERY
Any soldier who get disabled stays in the centre for a minimum of five to six years, depending upon the intensity of the injury. Once he is able to look after his needs, a board of doctors reviews his condition and decides whether to discharge him or not depending on the economic condition of his family, and the medical facilities at his home town. An inmate is discharged only once the authorities are sure that would be care for.
The inmates are trained in a variety of vocational activities ranging from data entry and candle-making to knitting. They are also encouraged to take part in sports and nation-wide competitions.
The sweaters knitted by the inmates are supplied to Sainik School Kunjpura, Army Public School (APS) Dagshai and Army Public School, Chandimandir. They also put up stalls during festivals such as Diwali at ECHS empanelled hospitals. The items are sold at nominal rates and the inmates are paid the making charges. Roughly, every inmate earns 2000 a month.
The centre, which is funded by Kendriya Sainik Board, New Delhi, and Headquarters Western Command with contributions from some state governments for the welfare of domicile soldiers, is operated by a team of paramedics and support staff under the management of a director. The General Officer Commanding-in-Chief, Western Command, is its patron-in-chief, while Chief of Staff, Western Command HQs, is the patron. Col Spehia took over as the director of the institute in 2002. It was manned by medical superintendents until 1991 when Col M M S Randhawa (retd) was appointed the director.
The process of rehabilitation aims at making the patient fit enough to carry out daily activities of life. The regimen, therefore, focuses on improving the patient’s motor coordination and endurance to enable him to handle his personal chores and hygiene needs besides achieving a considerable state of physical self-sufficiency.
The institute in-house physiotherapy treatment includes work therapy, sports therapy and profitable hobbies. Interestingly, now efforts are on to rename the institute as Paraplegic Empowerment and Rehabilitation Centre (PERC).
The centre has 24 family quarters for married inmates. For the single inmates, there are six rooms with four beds each and modified bathrooms. The dining hall has a capacity of 100 people.
Other amenities include a meditation hall and physiotherapy hall. The centre also has a printing press, where books are printed for school students, besides computerised knitting and linking machines. It is particularly proud of its sports complex where wheelchair basketball and tennis are practiced. The centre boasts a synthetic track for races, besides an area for javelin and discus throw.
An ECHS polyclinic provides the inmates regular medical care. In case of further treatment, the inmates are sent to empanelled hospitals.
The boarding and lodging is free, and the inmates living with family are paid 30 per day for meal.
The staff and director also live on the campus.