It was October of 2018. We were on the road from Silchar Airport in Assam to Cachar Cancer Hospital and Research Centre. A distance of 30 kilometres took forever, especially after reaching the dusty and crowded roads of Silchar town. The traffic moved at a snail’s pace. And then we sighted the hospital.
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It was at first sight an unimpressive plain building, parts of which seemed unfinished. The terrain was uneven, we negotiated the slopes and entered the building and were shown into the spartan room of the Director, who received us warmly. He showed us around the facility. He stopped frequently to interact with patients, doctors and staff.
And we were overwhelmed.
The patients come from all surrounding hamlets from far and near. They can barely afford any medical costs, can barely afford to forgo their daily wages.The facility seemed truly spartan, but yet was seeing over 3500 new patients a year, reviewing over 14000 patients, performing over 1300 surgeries a year. The bed occupancy was always at 100 percent.
The hospital was set up in 1996 in the remote Barak valley of Assam by a society comprising of local residents mainly to support the cancer-affected, the incidence of which was pretty significant. The nearest hospital from here before this was in Guwahati, at a distance of 350 km. The hospital struggled over the years due to severe resource constraints, not just money but also that of qualified professionals hesitating to move to such a remote post.
And then everything changed from the year 2007 and the hospital has been on an extraordinary journey, with over 100 beds and advanced state-of-the-art facilities, certified as a central government affiliated research centre, presenting papers across geographies. The Centre boasts of a tele-medicine centre, mobile clinics that drive into remote parts, pioneering efforts in training the local people as nurses and so much more.
This is the story of Dr. Ravi Kannan, a young professional from Chennai, from the premium Adyar Cancer Hospital, deciding to move with his family to the truly remote Silchar in Assam to take over the management of the hospital in the year 2007. As Seetha his wife spoke to us about her hesitancy at first and later her conviction, when she realised the impact they could create in the communities surrounding, I was still struggling to understand the courage and conviction, the giving up of a life of relative comfort, access, familiarity to move to a State that one hears about in the context of floods, rains and unrest.
Dr. Ravi convinced his family including his daughter to move and over the years made several young professionals follow him there from other States. We met a doctor from Coimbatore, who said that he would not dream of moving anywhere else and was depending on Dr Ravi to convince his wife (just married) to move here. Another doctor couple from Calcutta, just simply summed this up by saying they find happiness here and the satisfaction of reaching people who really need care.
You will have to see it to believe the commitment of these very young professionals, who live in very simple residential quarters, bonding like a family, working into the night, celebrating festivals with staff and patients. There is really nothing there except the hospital. The meaning of commitment, compassion got redefined for me on that visit.
Dr Ravi is a natural leader, he inspires people around him, he empowers the young professionals with his trust, he innovates in so many ways to make sure that patients get the treatment they need. Understanding the economics, he even provides casual labour for the patient’s family members to help them earn while they are there. He does all this cheerfully and effortlessly and brushes off any praise casually.
We are extremely happy and privileged to have supported this extraordinary Dr Ravi Kannan, his team and his hospital in a small way. Two of the Trusts that I am part of — Bhoomika Trust has re-laid flooring in several wards, damaged by rains, while Mahesh Memorial Trust has supported the setting up of his blood bank at a cost of Rs 65 lakhs, supports screening tests for patients and has committed to building a paediatric cancer ward in the coming year.
And this Republic day as all of India recognised him, I just want to say, “Congratulations Padmashri Dr. Ravi Kannan. Such a privilege to know you.”