Life Blood

Courtesy by: expressindia.com

For this man who has organised over 300 blood donation drives after losing his son to thalassemia, blood is not thicker than water

It was a response to a personal challenge that later turned into a charity drive. Ashok Khatuja, 58, got involved with blood donations after his experience, as a worried father, trying to find blood donors for his son, who was suffering from thalassemia. The traffic inspector with Western Railway suddenly realised how difficult it was for some Mumbaiites to find blood donors. “Ravi needed 12 bottles year early on. Later as he grew, he needed three bottles a month. He passed away in December 2004, at the age of 24 years. But those years helped me see the problems of other parents whose children are suffering from similar diseases,” Khatuja says.

In March 1987, he organised his first blood donation camp at Dadar railway station, for St George Hospital, specifically to help thalassemic children. “From that camp, we collected 300 bottles,” Khatuja remembers.

Having joined the railways in November 1971 as a train clerk, Khatuja earlier organised camps with organisations that work for the welfare of children suffering from thalassemia. But four years ago, he formed his own group called the Western Railway Social Service Group with the support of then general manager MZ Ansari.

“Our first camp was organised on April 7, 2005 and since then, we have organised more than 300 camps and collected 25,000 bottles of blood. Earlier, we would collect about 2,000 bottles every year but for the past three years, we’ve been collecting 5,000 bottles a year,” he says, adding that he enjoys tremendous support from senior officers, deputy chief operations manager SK Jha who is the group’s president.

The group’s work has led to several staffers of the railway becoming regular donors, including Chief commercial manager NC Sinha and senior medical officer Dr Uma Jindal.

“There are many blood donors who call me once every three months and ask where they can donate blood,” Khatuja says, all praise for his co-workers and seniors. In fact, from across the country, railway officials not only appreciate his work but even call when blood has to be arranged in emergencies.

“A chief operations manager in Secunderabad once called requesting for help in arranging 14 bottles of blood for his wife who was getting a liver transplant. Similarly, three years ago, a station master in Ratlam needed 20 bottles since he was to undergo a bypass surgery.”

Khatuja has a word of caution too, advising that people should donate blood with the assurance that it will be for the use of a patient somewhere, rather than for sale to blood banks.

“I always conduct my camps for government units, where they give blood free to all blood donors and charge non-donors only Rs 425 a bottle. Some private units sell blood at Rs 2,000 a bottle or more.”

With a couple of years to go for retirement, Khatuja hopes to continue serving people in the memory of his son. “Because I know others need me too.”

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