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Featured Image: Rima Agarwal with her husband Rajesh (extreme left), Dr Vijil Rahulan, and Dr Sandeep Attawar (right) at Kolkata Press Club on Thursday. 

Kolkata: A 39-year-old homemaker from Siliguri has become the first person from eastern Indian to have undergone a successful lung transplant, which is still a rare and expensive procedure in India.

Rima Agarwal belongs to a business family at 2nd Mile in Siliguri. About five years ago she was diagnosed with end-stage pulmonary fibrosis, a disease wherein scar tissues develop in the lung, making it too stiff to breathe.

“It was devastating for the entire family, especially for our 14-year daughter and 12-year son. Despite medication, the ailment gradually became acute and Rima could breathe only with artificial oxygen support with the intake increasing from 2 litres to 8 litres a day,” her husband Rajesh Agarwal, who owns a plywood manufacturing unit, said.

“It was then that we heard about lung transplant facility in Chennai and rushed there to give it one last try for Rima’s survival,” he added. She was taken to the Gleneagles Global Hospitals, which has done as many as 75 lung transplants starting in 2011.

“She was an acute case of pulmonary fibrosis and both her lungs were damaged. Hence we decided to transplant both the lungs and thus registered her as a prospective recipient with the Tamil Nadu government run organ management registry,” said Sandeep Attawar, the head of the transplant specialists’ team at the private hospital.

Attawar, his colleagues, and the patient family were today present at Kolkata Press Club to share the experience.

“Since, Rima is of thin built, finding a pair of donor’s lungs that will fit her was a challenge. The lungs of a donor weighing 90-kgs can fit someone weighing 10-15 kgs less, but those will not work on a 60 kgs person as her chest will not accommodate a larger lung,” the surgeon explained.

As the hospital continued its search for the right lungs, Rima and her husband stayed back in Chennai renting a house in the vicinity of the hospital. This they did at the advice of the doctors as once donor lungs are found, those need to be transplanted into a recipient within 6-8 hours.

After near three months wait, Rima was lucky to have a pair of matching lungs and those were transplanted into her on 4 July. She was discharged from the hospital in three weeks. But they stayed back in Chennai for another two months apprehensive of post-transplant complications.

“It was a successful transplant. Yet we waited for over four months to announce this despite the overall success rate for the lung transplants in our hospital this year is around 85 per cent. In the US, they consider three months survival enough to declare a lung transplant successful,” said Vijil Rahulan, a critical care and transplant pulmonologist at Gleneagles Global Hospitals.

Till now this year, the hospital has performed 16 lung transplants, with about 50 per cent of the patients being Indians, he added.

Rima and her husband Rajesh said that she is now leading a normal life. “The only precaution that I undertake is put on a mask whenever I am with a second person and take the medications as advised by the doctors,” Rima said.

“She runs about 5-km daily on the treadmill as doctors have advised her to remain active. Also, whoever visits our family, we provide them a mask and make them apply sanitiser on their hands so to avoid bacterial infection to Rima’s newly transplanted lungs,” added Rajesh.

Doctors from the Chennai hospital said that the entire package to transplant a lung costs around Rs 30-lakh, and for double lung transplant the cost is Rs 40-lakh. Then there are costs for travel and stay in Chennai. Rima’s family being into business could arrange the sum.

“There are patients in the US who are surviving for 10 years after a lung transplant. In our case, there is a patient who is leading a healthy life for five years now since the lung transplant,” Attawar said.