Almost three years after the Lady Ridgway Hospital (LRH) in Borella received its first paediatric laparoscopy machine, it remains the only one of its kind available in Sri Lanka today. Over 600 operations have been performed to date with the help of the machine, which can run at a maximum capacity of four operations per day.
The paediatric laparoscopy machine, the sole one in Sri Lanka, was donated in 2007 by Malaysian businessman Vijay Eswaran, whose grandfather originated from Sri Lanka and who is himself married to a Sri Lankan. Vijay, one of the largest foreign investors in Sri Lanka today, donated the machine together with his wife in memory of his late father-in-law, Manickam Vijayaratnam, who, during his lifetime, was a prominent businessman in the country.
Vijay, founder of the multinational corporation, QI Group, is also the man behind RYTHM Foundation, the corporate social responsibility arm of his conglomerate, which had earlier contributed millions of dollars towards tsunami rehabilitation projects in Sri Lanka. The foundation’s most recent project was a partnership with the Foundation of Goodness to rehabilitate the Seenigama village, destroyed by the tsunami in 2004.
"My wife and I come from families where philanthropy is a way of life. When we heard about the dire need for this machine at Lady Ridgeway Hospital, we made the immediate decision to help. Our foundation does a lot of work with children in different parts of the world and we are continuously looking for platforms from which we can assist in improving their quality of life," said Vijay, adding that he and his wife feel blessed to have been able to provide the means for minimising invasive surgical procedures in children, resulting in less post-surgical trauma and faster recovery periods.
He hopes other organisations will come forward to contribute towards meeting the various needs of children in whatever way they can. "There are many people or groups of people in Sri Lanka who can make a difference in the lives of children. We hope our contribution will inspire them to do what is necessary to give Sri Lankan children better lives in any way they can," he said.
Dr. Ananda Lamahewage, Paediatric Surgeon at LRH, is grateful for the machine, which cost around Rs. 7 million at the time it was donated to the hospital.
"Laparoscopic techniques have become the standard for many surgical procedures amongst the paediatric care community worldwide. However, at LRH, we were left out of this aspect of medical technology for many years. While other hospitals like the national hospital of Sri Lanka were replacing their third generation adult instruments, our request for a laparoscope went unheeded until Eswaran and his family came to our assistance," he said.
Dr. Lamahewage pointed out that laparoscopic procedures on children are now a widely accepted technique and have proven to have a high success rate for more complex problems amongst young patients ranging from newborns weighing only a few pounds to adolescents. He added that with more experience and confidence gained with diagnostic laparoscopy, this procedure is becoming a powerful tool in the field of paediatric care.
"The early use of diagnostic laparoscopy also helps avoid needless, expensive tests as well as prolonged hospitalisation," he added.
He explained that incisions resulting from open surgical procedures tend to contract as the child grows, leaving an unpleasant scar over time and sometimes causing functional impairments. However, in a laparoscopic procedure, three or four minute incisions are made, which virtually go unnoticed and do not affect the growth pattern of the child adversely.
"There are many more advantages, chiefly, less pain, less time spent on surgery and more importantly, shorter hospital stays. For example, for an appendectomy, traditionally a young patient is kept in the hospital for three days. In the case of a gall bladder stone procedure, it could be five to seven days. But with the laparoscopic procedure, more often than not, the child is admitted in the morning and discharged in the evening," said Dr. Lamahewage.
"We have only this one machine right now and that is already running at full capacity. We are trying our level best to acquire another one," he revealed.
He hopes individuals or oraganisations will come forward like Eswaran and his family to contribute another such machine to ensure more children will be able to benefit from laparoscopic procedures.