BY JYOTHSNA HEGDE
Atlanta, GA, October 1, 2020: His recent eye surgery notwithstanding, two-year-old Konark Singh from UP, India waved enthusiastically at the camera. His friend Aditi Katpure, 5, from Usmanabad, Maharashtra chose to shy away from the limelight, while 4-year-old Suprit Katpure, who had traveled all the way from Bhagadpur, Karnataka just wanted to cuddle with his dad. While each of the children hailed from different families and different states, they had one underlying medical condition in common, childhood cancer.
These families also shared another underlying social condition in common – poverty. Burdened with an alarming diagnosis and no money for treatment, the families found refuge in Tata Memorial Hospital for treatment, free of cost. But the treatment periods range anywhere between four months to a year. And not all patients are admitted all the time. With barely enough money to travel, the families had no way to support and sustain basic amenities such food and shelter for the duration of the treatment.
Having recognized this need, Access Life Assistance Foundation, an Indian not-for-profit organization, works at grass-root level, providing safe and clean home-like atmosphere along with multi-disciplinary supportive care to families who come to Mumbai for their child’s cancer treatment.
On a virtual tour to the one of their facilities in Mumbai, Ankeet Dave, Kirthi Shetty and Deepa Patel from Access Life walked team NRI Pulse through the well-maintained, well-tended center that housed cancer-stricken toddlers and their families.
The facility provides a separate unit for each family with a bed for the patient and one other person and extra mattress for additional parents/caregivers. Each family can use a common kitchen stocked with nutritious groceries and multiple stoves. Sterile bathrooms furnished with soap, cleaning supplies and towels are made available to the families. In collaboration with Wadia hospital, each child is provided with a ‘hygiene kit’ of 16 items. The facility offers common play areas equipped with TV playing cartoons for families and kids to get together. Along with accommodation and nutrition, families also avail transportation to hospital, education, counseling and recreational facilities from the centers, while they receive medical care at Tata Memorial and other public hospitals in Mumbai.
Six centers of Accesslife spread across in Mumbai and Thane, in Chembur, Andheri, and Bandra areas have provided home and shelter to 1461 people from 12 states since its inception June 2014 in Chembur. One specialty center is dedicated to kids undergoing Bone Marrow treatment.
“Our kids have been forced out of their existing shelter due to COVID-19 pandemic and we are trying to support them with a new center,” said Dave highlighting one of the many issues facing the centers during the pandemic. “We have capacity of 57. But with Thane shut down, we lost roof for 12 families. But we will have capacity of 63 families once new center opens up,” added Dave. Currently the centers house 30 families.
Dave noted that while most of the world talks about cleanliness and sanitation now, their facilities which house kids undergoing treatments and prone to infections, have always been advised to maintain health and hygiene from the get-go. “Some of these people are not aware about using toilets, and we have to start from there,” said Shetty.
A typical child and family stays on an average for about 7 months during treatment at the facilities. It costs an average of $12 per day to support and provide facilities to these under-privileged families. “Access Life is happy to give a tour to anyone interested in supporting the cause,” says Dave. Access Life appeals to donors to adopt a family for a month or any of other various other options to support these families. You may check http://www.accesslife.org or https://accesslifeamerica.org/adopt-a-family/ or https://accesslifeamerica.org/ for more information.
Childhood Cancer Awareness Month (CCAM) is recognized every September by childhood cancer organizations around the world. About 11,050 children in the United States under the age of 15 will be diagnosed with cancer in 2020. Cancer continues to reign as one of the number one cause of death by disease in children across all ethnicities, ages and socio-economics.
In an endeavor to support and raise awareness, Access Life has been lighting the iconic Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus (CST ) building and Municipal Corporation buildings in golden color since the past five years. This year, along with the lighting, Rintu Kalyani Rathod, Access Life supporter created a chocolate sculpture themed ‘Care is bigger than cancer’. The 44 lb (22 kg), 2 ft long sculpture depicts a sleeping infant in an open palm. The child is representative of kids who are battling cancer and the golden hand, their caregivers.
In India, it is estimated that about 50,000 children and adolescents ages 0 to 19 years will be diagnosed with cancer each year. The Tata Memorial Hospital in Mumbai treats an average of 3000 kids each year.
While volunteering for local hospitals in Mumbai, founders Girish Nair and Ankeet Dave uncovered the need to provide help and support to families battling cancer in their children. Gopal Nair, Girish’s brother and President of Access Life America (ALA) is an Atlanta resident. The ALA chapters in Georgia, Florida and Texas work with and support local charities to forge partnerships and goodwill while offering comfort to families fighting illnesses. ALA organizes events and seminars across the US to spread awareness of the challenges of childhood cancer and its impact of low-income families, thereby seeking funding and financial support for the ALA Foundation.
In recognition of their service in the fight against childhood cancer, Access Life team was awarded the Asia-Pacific Cancer Society’s Training Grant (APCASOT) in 2016 and a recognition by World Health Organization Ministry of Health and Family Welfare in 2017. They have also received recognition from Tata Memorial Center for their services.