At first glance there's nothing exceptional about her. The frail, sari-clad frame, the bespectacled face and mop of white hair could belong to any old lady next door. But you'd be totally wrong if you expect Nirmala Bhooshan to be your average, run-of-the-mill granny. Bhooshan has a bigger purpose in life than just quietly fading away into the horizon: she's in the business of saving lives through something as prosaic as a metal tag.
Bhooshan runs Medical Alert (MA) out of her roomy but modest Delhi flat. It's a unique informatics centre which makes personal medical identity tags in the form of necklaces and bracelets which can help provide vital medical details about a person in case of an emergency. ''The idea is to ensure proper aid in the hour of need,'' explains Bhooshan. To become a member you have to fill a prescribed form and submit it along with a physician's certificate specifying your medical history. A one-time membership fee of Rs 300 and an annual renewal fee of Rs 150 is charged for covering the maintenance expenses. Life membership is also available for Rs 1,250. The member is then issued a distinctive metal tag engraved with emergency medical information like one's blood group, allergies, disabilities, etc. Above all, it gives a file code number and the contact numbers of MA. The organisation maintains a full medical record of its members that can be accessed on the phone by doctors, paramedics or the police on quoting the file code number any time of the day.
The MA service can prevent wrong treatment being administered by people unaware of the victim's medical history. The tag also acts as an early warning method that saves precious time by avoiding the basic checklist of tests. It's also useful for the aged, people suffering from Alzheimer's or disabilities like memory lapses.
A retired deputy manager with the Delhi State Industrial Development Corporation, Bhooshan got started on the venture after reading a Reader's Digest article. That was in March 1997. The article was about the Medic Alert Foundation in the US and Australia which has millions of members and has played a key role in saving many lives. Convinced of the need for such a service in India, Bhooshan soon started work on the project and her ngo finally came into being in April '98. Her son, a computer consultant in the US, taught her to use a laptop and the Net has now become her source of information about such charity organisations around the world. ''If I can help somebody in times of need, I think the effort is worth it,'' says Bhooshan. But the going hasn't been easy. Initially, much effort had to be put into something as basic as sourcing metal for the necklaces and getting the engravings done. She even consulted doctors on which metal was best suited and most non-reactive in Indian conditions. She's also made endless rounds of hospitals, clinics, ministries and government departments for funds for publicity and also for creating some awareness.Enrolling members continues to be an uphill task. In two years, MA has a membership of just a few hundred. While many people are just not used to wearing a metal tag, some don't want to admit they have medical problems. ''They often joke about it, that they have been branded, given a token number,'' says Bhooshan. But the realisation that a secure life can easily be shattered has led many people to join Bhooshan's ngo. Take Shrikant and Renu Upadhyay. They got their entire family registered with MA after Shrikant had a road accident. ''It's in a crisis that you realise the importance of such an initiative,'' says Renu.
Though Bhooshan has approached corporates and other organisations, it was the Kumaon Mandal Vikas Nigam (kmvn), the Indo-Tibetan Border Police and the ministry of external affairs who've involved MA for charting the medical profile of pilgrims bound for the Kailash-Mansarovar yatra. Bhooshan is also keen on collaborating with kmvn on the Adi Kailash yatra and adventure tourism packages. Despite the physical, mental and material effort (she's put in about Rs 1.75 lakh on the project) Bhooshan is painfully modest. Enquiries about her personal life are carefully avoided. MA does have a managing board that has regular annual meetings, but Bhooshan remains the pivot. Her only complaint: at times the work can be overwhelming. The annual visit to her son in the US continues to elude her. But then she's busy saving lives. MA can be contacted at: 14, Kallol Apartments, 35, I.P. Extension, Delhi—110092; phone: (011) 2726040/2721782, 9811168242.
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