Published: 17th July 2019
This Madurai-based doctor couple quit their cushy private jobs to fight heart disease in rural India
The Little Moppet Foundation, which has helped over 200 children get free heart surgeries, also conducts monthly awareness programmes in remote towns across Tamil Nadu
Dr Gopi Nalliayan, a paediatric cardiac surgeon, had just landed a new job in a private hospital in Madurai after successful stints in places like Chennai, Hyderabad and Raipur when a chance encounter with a young patient changed his life forever. “Her reports showed congenital heart disease which had become so advanced that we could not risk operating on her; if we did, it just meant one thing – an inevitable death. The saddest part was that she had been diagnosed when she was just 6 months old, but her poor labourer parents didn’t know what to do or whom to approach. She had just celebrated her 6th birthday and chances that she would be able to celebrate more birthdays were slim,” he recalls.
Helping hand: Dr Nalliayan with a patient
He identified that a lack of awareness and access to proper healthcare were the top reasons that led to low survival rates of children with congenital heart disease (CHD). Apart from this, most of the hospitals in Madurai did not encourage operating on small babies as the risk factor was very high – the parents were advised to take their children to Chennai or Coimbatore for treatment, but most of the families couldn’t afford that. All this got Dr Gopi thinking. “More than 80% of the patients who came to me for help belonged to the BPL (Below Poverty Line) category. CHD can be detected in pregnancy scans but poor people do not go for regular scans like the affluent folks. I knew I had to do something about this – being a father myself, I couldn’t let all these children die like this,” adds Dr Gopi.
And soon, with funding from friends and acquaintances along with profits from their own organic baby food venture, Little Moppet Foods, Dr Gopi and Dr Hemapriya (his wife) established the Little Moppet Heart Foundation in 2015, after quitting their private jobs. Ever since then, they have performed more than 200 surgeries free of cost. “We don’t take any money from the patient. If they have applied for CM funds, we only make use of that. However, it doesn’t even cover one-fourth of the total expenses incurred and the foundation ends up paying the bulk of the cost,” says Dr Hemapriya.
In solidarity: Dr Nalliayan with patients and their families
As part of their agenda to spread awareness about congenital heart disease, the foundation conducts free health camps in rural towns across Tamil Nadu. “Last month, we conducted one at Manapparai and the turnout was very good. Heart disease manifests differently in different children – while some may have obvious symptoms, some may not even look like they’re sick. This is why taking parents through the A-Zs of what to look out for is very important – it has helped save many a life,” she adds.
While the foundation is marching on with its agenda of saving little lives from the clutches of heart disease, its journey is not completely devoid of challenges. “One of the main challenges is funding. The number of patients who approach us is increasing day by day and we are struggling to keep up. We do not want to say ‘no’ to any little child; we want to save as many little lives as possible but funds are tight. The second thing is, we are not able to perform surgeries on newborn babies – we use the services of Harshitha Hospital and Devadoss Hospital in the absence of a facility of our own and they do not have the required infrastructure for it. Our aim is to build our own medical centre with state-of-art infrastructure and advanced facilities to help aid our mission of saving more lives,” says Dr Gopi, adding that the foundation has started an active fundraiser on the crowdfunding site Milaap in a bid to get their message across to as many people as possible.