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Providing paraplegics with a new lease of life

Paraplegics, deprived of the ability to move and, in many cases, to even feel, are often abandoned by loved ones, ignored by society, and condemned to a sub-par existence. Udavum Karangal reaches out to such people

What if one morning you wake up and find that you’re unable to even get off your bed, leave alone walk?Life would come to a standstill, literally and figuratively, wouldn’t it? Well, that’s the fate of paraplegics. Chennai-based NGO UdavumKarangal has launched a programme to provide basic life support to a few people suffering from paraplegia.

While accidents are the most common cause of paraplegia, motor neuron disease, cancer, tumours or blood clots within the spinal cord can also cause this problem. Severe damage to the spinal cord and the nervous system paralyses the trunk, legs and pelvic region, resulting in loss of mobility and cognitive function. Treatment is prolonged, expensive, and mostly ineffective in terms of complete recovery.

Sasikumar.

Geeta (name changed) had to undergo a surgery to remove a cyst on her spinal cord. But she ended up paralysed below the waist. Hers is a case of full-blown paraplegia. But she did not give up. She earned a degree from the Open University and won medals in shot put and wheelchair racing at the National Para Olympics. However, the 32-year-old woman is still unable to get a decent job.

Sasikumar (45) met with an accident in 2011 and lost sensation in both his legs. He was working as a security guard, but could not continue in the job, and is presently unemployed. Venkatesan (35) also became a paraplegic because of an accident. He was working as a coolie, but has been bedridden for the last six years. His wife abandoned him, and his parents are no more.

Ezhilarasi (32) and Kumar (33) are victims of post-traumatic paraplegia too. Nine-year-old Yogitha was diagnosed with paraplegia, and is 80 per cent disabled. Sundhari (32) is a paraplegic from birth.

Most of these people have exhausted their savings on treatment. They are abandoned by loved ones, ignored by society, and left without caregivers. People affected by paraplegia cannot stand, walk or even take care of their personal needs for the rest of their lives. “Movement is the unifying bond between the mind and the body and sensations are substances of that bond”, says Deane Juhan, a movement therapist.

Ezhilarasi.

Udavum Karangal has embarked on an initiative called paraSpara to help ostracised paraplegics. It aims to cater to their basic needs, provide nutritious food, teach livelihood skills and supply prescribed medicines. The goal is to rehabilitate victims of paraplegia, and provide a ray of hope, if not a return to their original active life.

Under paraSpara, 100 paraplegics have been identified in four districts of Tamil Nadu –  Tiruvallur, Chengalpet, Thiruvannamalai and Chennai – who are fighting a losing battle. A dedicated team, formed under the founder, Vidyaakar, to help them is headed by Mohan (health manager) with two social workers, para-medical staff, two helpers and a driver.The beneficiaries are provided monthly provisions, an air bed, a hospital cot and free medicines. 

Many paraplegics are ready to take up work from home, commensurate with their education and training, but need basic facilities, like a laptop in some cases, to make this feasible. They also need contacts to find employment. Some of them have been given sewing machines under paraSpara to help them earn a living.

“Even during the Covid lockdown our team could help them by supplying rice and essential provisions. We are studying their needs to provide whatever is possible from our side. They need our help life-long, and the society should come forward to support them,” says Vidyaakar.

(Edited by Susan Philip, assistant editor, Vidura.)

How Udavum Karangal helped

Yogitha was given a paediatric wheel chair, a kit consisting of rice and provisions, and free medicines. The child is now comfortable in the wheel chair (also in the picture is Mohan, chief co-ordinator for the paraSpara Rehabilitation Project).

Sasikumar was given a medical cot, a mattress, a pillow and bedsheet and also a kit of rice and provisions. Venkatesan received a hospital cot, a mattress, the kit and diapers. He is ready to take up some work from home.

Ezhilarasi got a cot, a bedsheet and 10 kg of rice and provision. She is a BBA student and has knowledge of computers and is ready to take up any computer related employment.  She requires a laptop for working. Kumar, too, was provided a hospital bed and a kit.

Sundhari, who likes to stitch dresses, now owns a tailoring machine with a motor fixed for sewing, costing Rs 25000. 

All this was largely possible thanks to well-wishers and donors.

October – December 2022

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