Recently a Catholic priest from Kerala, South India, has hit the headlines all over the world by his unprecedented gesture of love and sacrifice. Maya Krishnan meets that ‘chosen’ one, Father Davis Chiramel, who is blessed to alight from the altar only to practice what he preached by sharing his flesh and blood to a needy one.
On February 10, 2010 the State of Kerala witnessed a mass journey,obviously an unusual one. As far as the Keralites are concerned a mass tour or mass journey has nothing to make them agape, as the State is rich with the abundance of poking political parties. But this particular one was different without any shouts of slogans or shots of folded fists towards the sky. The journey started from the State’s northern end Kazargodu and ended up at its Southern end Trivandrum in a 20 days’ span. The journey was headed by a Shepherd better known to the world as Father Davis Chiramel leading a flock of lambs only to disperse them with a lit-up candle to various remote areas where darkness of negligence and ignorance still persists.
That journey titled as ‘Manava Karunya Yatra’ (Human compassionate journey) connotes the goal and track of the mission. And that too headed by none other than Father Davis Chiramel, to whom the media all over the world has rendered the title as ‘kidney priest’.
Recently an unprecedented act from the southern tip of India, hit the headlines all over the world as “Indian priest donates his kidney to a Hindu man’. It was Father Davis Chiramel who had shown the world with his own blood and flesh that the human body was not worthless as far as it encases a virtuous soul inside. When the media hypes reached the protraction at the brim of religious verbosity, Father Davis had to come to the limelight to inculcate, “ I have not given my kidney to a Hindu, but to a human being.”. But in a country like India where the Preamble boasts over secularism but human beings are burnt alive in the streets and vote banks heap and leak through the religious pores, it was news, something different – a Catholic priest’s Kidney is being grafted inside a Hindu man!
“For me, the possibility of donating an organ of mine to a person unknown to me has become a unique and privileged occasion to participate in Christ’s sufferings.” Remarked a contented Father Davis Chiramel, soon after the surgery. “To donate a kidney is a grace for me. …..It happened in February but only on June 19 I could understand what I was doing. That day the Pope opened the Year for Priests, and I was in the hospital for one of the analyses…..I immediately realized that I had been given the grace of offering my body to save a man.” .
The Catholic kidney is now functioning well with no sign of inhibition inside the Hindu physique of Mr.Gopinathan who had been waiting unwillingly for his death before meeting with Father Chiramel. It was from the murmurs of his parish people, Father Chiramel came to know about a financially poor Gopinathan struggling with renal ailments. In fact the people around where busy raising fund to ‘purchase’ a kidney from the kidney racketeers to save the life of Gopinathan, father of two small children. At this juncture Father Davis was deciding to donate his own kidney not to leave that poor man to the ghastly kidney mafia. After crossing a prolonged medical and legislative obstacles, that divine act has been undertaken inside the Lakeshore Hospital Kochi on September 30th. Thus the Priest of St.Francis Xavier’s Church Vadanapilly, celebrated his Priestly Year inside the hospital with an amputated body and a contented heart by transforming himself a ‘comfort for the sick and weary…..a light along the darkened path…a man of mercy… understanding and consoling the grieving..’. You can see at the Chakkamadathil house, where Gopinathan lives now with his family, the framed photograph of Father Davis Chiramel is being installed among those of Hindu Gods.
While the two surgeries were being done in the hospital simultaneously on September 30th, the whole State irrespective of caste and creed was praying for the both.. Especially in Trichur District, where the donor and the receptor are hailing from, temples and churches were buzzing with prayers for the same goal as if in a war time.
Rising from the bed Father Chiramel announced the formation of Kidney Federation of India – an organization aims to promote kidney donation and raise funds to help patients who cannot afford dialysis for transplants. The official inauguration of Kidney Federation of India, first of its kind in the State, has been carried out by none other the than the musical maestro of India Padmashri Dr.K.J.Yesudas on 31st October. But it is a known fact in the whole world that the unofficial launch of the organization was on 30th September itself at the Lakeshore Hospital, Kochi.
While inaugurating the official launch of KFI, Dr.K.J.Yesudas quoted the famous lines from the Bible “Let those who have two give one to those who have none” to the mammoth gathering present there. But Father Chiramel, coming directly from his post surgery bed hardly after one month, told the mass “ I ve not done anything to start this venture. I just responded to the cry of a dying man… But when I decided to donate my kidney a lot of people from my side came forward with warning of its dangers and they persisted me to skirt my service with donating money to meet the surgical expenses. This incident prompted me to form a network to tap such generous support to poor families..”
Setting the rarest of rare illustrations of love and sacrifice, Father Chiramel had to sell his own car, besides his kidney to meet the post surgical expenses (around 2 lakhs) of Mr.Gopinathan. Thus the main objective of KFI came to be the propagation of kidney donation to their needy kin by the people in general and by the relatives of the patients in particular. Kidney Federation plans to offer 2 lakhs each to 10 persons undergoing kidney transplantation every year. This is meant towards the cost of transplantation and post surgical medicines to be administered.
Kidney Federation of India is a sole initiative of Father Chiramel who invokes all the humanitarian organization working in the country together to share the experiences and resources so as to maintain a constant move of the organization. The unprecedented act of Father Davis Chiramel has encouraged some kind-hearted people to offer financial support to kidney patients.
Father Chiramel’ journey was aimed at various mindsets of the people in the State. “Almost all people including highly educated ones are afraid of donating their kidney fearing a shortening of their life span.” Says, Father Chiramel. “See how I’m now. Anything wrong with me? It’s becoming only 6 moths past my surgery. I’m as energetic as I was before. I want to demonstrate myself and project myself through this journey that I too can travel and do whatever an ordinary man with two kidneys can.” Says a vibrant Father.
Quoting his surgeon Father Chiramel said:”since undergoing a major surgery could subject the donor to mental and physical stress, a totally unrelated person who would donate a kidney to save another human being is now subjected to a minimally invasive surgery to harvest a healthy kidney”. He said his doctor who had till then harvested 500 kidneys using laparoscopic technique which is compared to traditional surgery inflicts minimal scar, short hospital stay and fewer traumas that help the donor return to normal life in about 4-5 days.
The ‘Manava KarunyaYatra’ ended up at Trivandrum on March 2nd. During the journey Father could meet hundreds of renal patients and their bereaved relatives. Meanwhile Kidney Federation of India has done all the set ups for 30 chapters all over Kerala to segregate the workings of the organization at the proximity of the needy ones. They plan to conduct a chain of awareness programs through schools, colleges, residents associations and like gathering points and convey the messages and missions of KFI projecting Father Davis Chiramel as a living and shining example of such a gesture.
First and foremost thing of KFI was to wipe out the unnecessary fear and misconceptions among the public about kidney donation. During our talk Father has quoted an example of a young man who at the brim of his 40’s still remains a bachelor just because of his act of donating one of his kidneys to his father when he was 18. When asked about the space for a doctor in his journey of awareness to emphasize the biological facts of least damage to the donor’s body, Father Chiramel smiled away, “see, the kidney trafficking is a big business now. If a doctor comes in public to talk about kidney donation, at any cost, it would be misinterpreted. Such is the world”.
KFI has distributed more than thousands of free dialysis coupons at the launch itself keeping in mind the bitter fact that in Kerala, more than 10,000 people are surviving on dialysis. Meanwhile they felicitate required paper works for the poor people who need transplantation. In case if the donor’s kidney is found not suitable for the receptor they provide ‘cross kidney donation’ program through which one can serve and another can have the relief, though not known to each other. Father Chiramel has taken initiative to meet the State Health Minister P.K.Sreemathy and asked support from the government side. His request was to subsidize transplant surgery and to provide the costly drugs (usually the immunosuppressant medication which helps prevent organ rejection by the body) cheaply for the needy and the poor. For this, from his side, he plans to set up a chain of renal medical services and to introduce a new insurance product in collaboration with United India Insurance Company. With the full fledged implementation of these things, Father Chiramel is optimistic of wiping out the unscrupulous kidney trades from the soil of Kerala to a certain extent.
‘It is more blessed to give than to receive..’. This becomes true with Father Davis Chiramel. So let us now praise him.
Make a call to the mobile number 9846236342, you can hear an affectionate ‘hello..’ as if hearing a Psalm. Or make an appointment with Father and see, how illuminant that smile is. How warm his welcome is..and feel the pulse of a celeb-obsessed country like India where, to elevate the common thoughts to virtuous deeds how a priest exploits his ‘accidental celebrity’ while most of the celebs mops at the chore culture through the media hyperbolic.
Don’t appraise him as the founder of only a Kidney Federation of India. He is the person behind Janananma and ACTS – two cent percent humanitarian and self-less organizations servicing in Trichur District. There was a time in the State of Kerala (where the literacy is 100%) when people who met with any road accident would bleed to death while the passers by and onlookers simply leave them to the mercy of destiny. Even the kind hearted ones too would do nothing to save the wounded ones only because of the fear of judicial entanglements. ACTS (Accident Care and Transport Services) was born out of these blood stains. It now owns 10 ambulances and many a young activists at various points in the district ready to undertake service at any time. When you pass through the State or National Highways along the District you can see the sign boards of ACTS with mobile numbers printed on. After the launch of ACTS on behalf of this Good Samaritan, the number of accident deaths due to ‘increased hemorrhage’ has become less at least in the highways of Trichur District amidst the neck-break plies of the vehicles.
While we were talking his cell phone was ringing incessantly. Calls are from far away places, from the needy, from the destitute. After each call Father becomes gloomy for a while and sighs as if in a soliloquy. “Every one needs financial support. After 6 surgeries and some dialysis, I was completely emptied out…what to do..?”.
Christ gives himself for the salvation of the world and, every day in the Mass, priests offer the sacrifice of His Body and Blood, without sharing the pains and sufferings of the Lord. But here is a priest, a shepherd who wanders for the lost, who shares his flesh and blood to the needy, who practices what he preaches – ‘for many are called but few are chosen’.