Doctors in Naogaon, Bogra and Rajshahi had given up all hope on the survival of 17-year-old Shampa who had burn injuries stretching from below her lips to the upper part of her chest.
The doctors there had even told her that she had six months to live, said Shampa. But a surgery turned things around for her.
Shampa, burnt in a residential fire caused by an oil lamp nine months ago, suffered from post-burn scar contractures wherein the skin tightens after a severe burn, often restricting movement.
“I could not move my head up and down or sideways before the surgery on April 5. The space between my head and chest was gone,” she told The Daily Star a day after her surgery in the neck, axillary area and wrist, performed by a team of foreign plastic surgeons and burn experts.
Shampa's mother Jahanara Begum narrated how she went to hospitals in Naogaon, Bogra and Rajshahi seeking treatment for her eldest child and spending more than TK 1.5 lakh, but all in vain.
As a last try, Jahanara, a house help by profession, brought Shampa to the burn institute in Dhaka Medical College Hospital.
“I didn't have to spend a single penny here for the surgery, medicine or even the tests,” she said.
Shampa said, “The doctors here are very nice. I can talk with all of them and they said I will recover.” Tilting her head a little and showing the surgical scar that released the contracture of her neck, she said, “See I can move my head now.”
The nine-member team of doctors, anaesthetists and nurses, who operated on Shampa, arrived in Bangladesh on April 4 to provide treatment to burn victims and exchange knowledge with doctors of the National Institute of Burn and Plastic Surgery at the DMCH. They left yesterday.
The visit was arranged by FOR Bangladesh Association, a charitable organisation based in Germany, along with Interplast Germany, Hungary and the Netherlands.
Interplast is an international non-profit association of plastic surgeons who provide free plastic and reconstructive surgery worldwide, for people who do not have access to the otherwise costly treatment.
Established in 2010, FOR Bangladesh brought foreign doctors six times in the last five years to perform orthopaedic and reconstructive surgery, helping 621 patients so far, said Hasnat Mia, president and founder member of FOR Bangladesh.
“This year we wanted to do something for the arson victims of the recent political violence,” said Hasnat. However, after consultation with the DMCH doctors, it was decided that other burn victims and patients with congenital deformity such as cleft lip are to be included, he added.
Forty patients, mainly from poor families living outside Dhaka, were primarily selected by DMCH doctors for treatment by the foreign doctors.
Lack of post-burn care of burn scars in hands, legs and neck often leads to deformity in burn patients outside Dhaka, said Samanta Lal Sen, national coordinator of the burn institute.
MORE DOCTORS NEEDED
Besides treatment, the foreign team is providing hands-on training to doctors of the institute, Sen said.
Mohammad Mahbubur Rahman, who worked with the team during surgery, said, “We saw application of some modern instruments which we had previously read about only in books and journals.”
“We also learnt some advanced techniques,” he said.
Outside the OT area on the first floor of the institute, senior plastic surgeon Greg Pataki along with two other members of his team was seen discussing the cases of a few outdoor patients.
“We are providing training by giving presentations about our cases,” said Pataki, who represent Interplast Hungary.
“The doctors and residents are very well trained and perform a wide spectrum of plastic surgeries. But the number of burn cases and patients, who need special plastic surgery, is very high while the number of plastic surgeons in Bangladesh is very few,” said Pataki, who visited Bangladesh four times.
According to Sen, more than 6,000 burn patients seek treatment a year for which at least 1,200 plastic surgeons are required. “At present, there are around 50 doctors in the country,” he said.
The leading surgeon of the team Heinz Herbert Homann representing Interplast Germany said, “Never before I saw such a big institution like the Institute of Burn and Plastic Surgery. It is the biggest in Asia where doctors face many special and challenging burn cases.”
He, however, said the operating rooms lack certain instruments, and suggested that investments be made for increasing staff and equipment.
“It would be helpful if 3-4 teams of doctors could visit Germany from Bangladesh every year and vice versa to share experience and knowledge,” he added.