Road to Recovery
Peshawar: Eight-year old Imran Khan is busy doing his routine exercises. With the support of a walker he manages to traverse some distance. Hailing from Dir, Lower district Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, he is one of the many patients suffering from severe spinal cord injury at the Paraplegic Center in Hayatabad, Peshawar.
“I had gone to my Mamu’s (uncle’s) home and a bullet fired by him unintentionally hit me,” said Imran, sharing details of the incident that paralyzed him. I was taken to Lady Reading Hospital immediately after the incident. I have been undergoing treatment at the Paraplegic Centre for the last few months.” Imran has had to drop out of school after his injury, since it is located some distance away from the centre.
The Paraplegic Center is an autonomous body working under the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Health Department. In the days after the Russian invasion of Afghanistan, there was no such facility across South Asia to deal with cases of spinal cord injury. Although it was established in 1979, the centre really came into its own after 2000. Today all spinal cord injuries patients are treated in accordance with international standards and techniques. “Patients are not only given medical support with physiotherapy, occupational therapy, psychological counseling, orthotic devices, wheel chairs, walkers but are also provided with recreational activities like sports,” says the centre’s Chief Executive, Syed Muhammad Ilyas.
To date, the centre has provided treatment to more than 9,500 patients. The current Chief Executive joined the institution in 2005. “ It was in state of near collapse at that point but is now considered a creditable institution across the country, providing quality medical care to patients,” he says.
“I was a daily-wage earner in Saudi Arabia and had a fall while on duty,” said Hamidullah. “The accident left me unable to walk or even move my arms. I underwent surgery in Saudi Arabia but did not really improve.” Hamidullah has been getting treatment in Peshawar for the last month and feels he is getting better. “ Here we get medicines and physiotherapy free of cost and I hope to recover soon. I am the only bread-winner in my family and was able to return home only because my fellow workers collected money for me. I will stay in Pakistan now and hope to set up a small business here. “
The Paraplegic Center admits only 30 to 40 patients every month and on average also discharges about the same number. Minimum duration of stay required is generally three months. The centre has more than 250 persons on their waiting list from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), Sindh, Gilgit Baltistan and other parts of country.
Jabir Khan from Swabi district is an employee of PTV Peshawar. He met with an accident on the motorway enroute to Islamabad when the tyre of his car burst. “Things may have been different if I had been transported to the hospital in a better manner. Also, on that day, there was a doctor’s strike in hospitals,” he recalls.
He later underwent extensive treatment at the Paraplegic Centre and made a remarkable recovery. In fact, he even participated in the national level games for disabled persons in Abottabad district in 2013 as a representative of the Paraplegic Center. Later he also took part in the national games in 2014 in Islamabad. “We were selected for the international level games but could not participate due to monetary constraints,” says Jabir Khan.
“Most spinal cord injury patients cannot completely recover but we do our best to enable them to stand on their feet,” says Muhammad Ilyas. “They lose mobility, bladder control, are sexually paralysed. Caring for one such patient is comparable to caring for a hundred other patients.”
The Paraplegic Center is the sole institution in the country caters specifically to the needs of these patients. “We refer to the patients who leave the centre as graduates,” says the Chief Executive. “We follow-up with our graduates for six months and we help them find jobs, vocational trainings, school admissions so that they can function independently and contribute to society.”
Despite substantial grants awarded by the provincial government, the organization still depends heavily on donor organizations and philanthropists.
Farid Shinwari is a Peshawar and FATA-based journalist who writes for a number of leading publications.