Friday, June 22, 2007

Flashback to ‘baby-friendly’ clinic

IMA member recounts month-old camcorder show by father of ‘boy surgeon’

Manapparai (Tamil Nadu), June 22: Dr K. Murugesan’s hospital here wears its badge proudly. At the entrance is displayed an Indian Medical Association certificate declaring the Mathi Surgical and Maternity Nursing Home “baby friendly”.

It’s a 15-year-old “baby surgeon” that has now brought the hospital under the national spotlight.

The IMA’s local branch, whose members say they watched a video of Dileepan Raju doing a Caesarean section at his father’s clinic, claims it had informed the association’s state and national chapters early in May.

But not much was done till a leak, presumably by a local doctor, raised an outcry on Wednesday.

The “baby friendly” tag came a few years ago after an assessment by the IMA’s national task force. Along with the certificate are displayed photographs of “rare surgeries” at the hospital, including the delivery of male triplets.

The rarest of these, local doctors say, was the one to which they were treated at an IMA meeting on May 6. Dr Venkata Prasad, secretary of the IMA branch in Manapparai, 40 km from Tiruchirappalli, confirmed that it was Dileepan doing the operation on video — an allegation Murugesan has denied.

A senior IMA official said that at the meeting, Murugesan sprang a surprise by “asking to show the video of a Caesarean”.

The meeting had been convened for guest lectures by a urologist and an orthopaedist. “But we allowed Dr Murugesan to show the CD, as we usually do when doctors want to present some unique case,” said the official, who didn’t want to be named.

“I am Dr Murugesan, giving spinal anaesthesia (to the patient) and my son is doing the surgery,” the father allegedly said as his camcorder tape started showing the pictures on a screen with the help of a projector and a laptop.

Shell shocked

“We were shell-shocked and looked at each other in utter disbelief. The screen showed the surgery being done by his teenage son, a Class X student (he is now in the first year of plus II). Murugesan, who’s a surgeon, himself administered anaesthesia without the services of an anaesthetist,” the IMA doctor said.

When the boy pulled the infant out, “we could see it was a malformed baby — there was a lump on its back”. He clarified that the operation was successful and the lump had nothing to do with the surgery being done by unskilled hands.

“There was an uproar. But Dr Murugesan wanted to take this to the media and, apparently, to the Guinness World Records,” the doctor said. “We pleaded with him not to; we told him this was unethical. But he wouldn’t listen.”

The local IMA’s complaint, sent to the state chapter the next day after an emergency meeting, says: “He (Murugesan) reacted very arrogantly and threatened to sue the local IMA without accepting his mistake.”

The emergency meeting passed a resolution making it clear that the local IMA was “in no way responsible for his way of practice”.

“We had to collectively condemn this, else Dr Murugesan may have tried to gain mileage out of the screening at an IMA meeting,” said the local IMA secretary, Dr Prasad.

“Our role ended after reporting the matter to higher authorities. We did it so we would not be hauled up for remaining silent spectators to an unethical practice by a fellow doctor.”

Dr M.M. Nazurudeen, the chapter’s president, who wasn’t at the meeting where the video was allegedly shown, said: “We condemned this very strongly.”

Sources said the state chapter wrote to Murugesan asking him to explain his action. The doctor, they said, denied the allegation. The matter seems to have rested there despite the local doctors’ eyewitness account.

CD confusion

The line of patients at the hospital had thinned today. Murugesan and his gynaecologist wife Gandhimathi, also alleged to have been present at the Caesarean, attended to patients but kept away from the media.

Their lawyer, Kasturi, did the talking.

“The boy only watched the operation done by his father,” the lawyer said. “It doesn’t violate any law as people are televising operations these days.”

Kasturi claimed that Murugesan had shown the video because the patient — a relative — had two uteruses, which is unnatural.

The IMA complaint speaks of Murugesan showing a CD but the lawyer said: “There is no CD.”

The reference to a CD could be an error because some doctors said the video was shown directly from a camcorder.

The investigators’ problem is compounded by the failure of the patient, Neela, to file a complaint. Efforts to trace her have been unsuccessful. Her parents’ home at Pallarnatham village, 20 km from Manapparai, was locked this afternoon.

The local doctors now seem to hold the key to the case. Some of them have spoken to the investigators, led by the district revenue divisional officer.

“The probe will be over in another three days and once we get the full report, we will decide on the next course of action,” said Tiruchirappalli collector Ashish Vachhani.

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