Hastha- A helping hand attached to your arms.

Disabilities seem to be a norm in nature. Physically or emotionally, the world always seems to cripple us to keep itself entertained. But to rise is superhuman! History has taught us that it’s the effort that gets lauded the most.

Dr. Anil K Bhat and his team at the department of hand and microsurgery are adding more value to such efforts and giving a giant boost to the lives of the lesser equipped. Dr. Anil envisioned “Hastha”, a project to screen and pick up congenital hand abnormalities at the youngest age possible and correct them with an intention to minimize the extent of disability and increase the quality and productivity of their lives.

Congenital hand abnormalities are not very uncommon but a lot of children are ignored or parents and pediatricians are rather discouraged to perform surgeries at such a young age. This leads to lower efficiency and functionality of the limbs as they aren’t trained properly in the developing years. However, these abnormalities have to be corrected before the bones fuse and preferably before the age of joining school, which is 2-6 years. Also, with an increase in age, the prognosis decreases. It is this key concern that gave birth to Hastha.

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The journey of Hastha began in the year 2016 and has been quite well received since its conception, with the number of surgeries performed under its aegis almost doubling in last year. The TMA Pai endowment awarded to the project gave the project national recognition and is currently the biggest source of funding. Dr. Anil began the project in association with the Udupi District Collector’s office. With their help, an app was first created which was circulated among all Anganwadi and district health workers. They could register a child with any of the features/disabilities displayed or defined in the app by just entering their phone number. Dr. Anil would personally contact them later and counsel them for future plans of corrective surgery or management. With the help of an elective student working on communications, the outreach of the app and the response was made better.

Now, brochures are circulated to all Anganwadi workers and ANMs to look out for such children, counsel their parents and refer them immediately to the centre. A clinic is set up at the department each Saturday solely for these children. The unit is now recognized as the ‘Centre for Congenital Hand Anomalies’. With rising awareness, the centre now sees cases referred from our own hospital to hospitals across the world. The online awareness campaigns and CMEs hosted by the department has helped reach out to a wide range of pediatricians, health care workers and authorities. The project has a holistic interdisciplinary approach with Geneticists, Surgeons, Therapists, Biomedical engineers, community health care workers and government officials all working towards one goal.

The prosthesis is yet another key subject under this project. Conventional prostheses aren’t suitable for the pediatric age group as children grow out of the prosthetics they are prescribed very soon. Also, they restrict certain movements significantly and don’t allow children to live a normal life, play outdoor games or learn an instrument. In order to tackle this, the Centre has pioneered the ‘3D printing’ of prosthetics customized to a child’s needs. The printer prints the assembly to the sizes and specifications fed in, even in the colours specified. The prostheses resemble Todd’s prosthesis and thus, have a better compliance with children. It equips them with the ability to literally change their hands if they want to perform or learn a different type of task. Dr. Anil remembers, “The joy on the faces of the kids who held something in their hand for the first time in their lives, or the kid who now plays cricket or the one who now learns the piano is pure happiness.” This, he explains, is the driving spirit and force of his venture. And what’s more, the centre provides all these prostheses completely free of cost to the poor and disenfranchised. For the relatively well to do as well, they cost a meagre four or five thousand rupees. Hastha is the only such project in the entire nation and a jewel in the MAHE crown. Dr. Anil though, is far from done. He is working toward the creation of a National directory for hand anomalies in association with the other renowned institutes of the country that work in this field. He aims at creating a constant flow of funds to help him keep the project service oriented.

The cruel Manipal Summers bring back some special visitors to the centre. All the children with successful surgeries or prosthetics are asked to visit at least once a year during their summer vacations. “It’s a fine sight, the fruits of your labour lighting up someone else’s life.”

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Written by- Vinay Reddy

Public Relations officers- Keertana and Radha Jha

Photographer- Nithin Davuluri

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