How Oommen Chandy as CM launched cochlear implants over a widow's plaint

Illustration: Jain David M/Manorama Online

Kannur: In the world of storytelling, some stories are drawn from real-life experiences. For writer Susheela Velayudhan, who has written five novels and 164 short stories, her next project is deeply personal about how an extraordinary politician's compassionate acts brought miracles to her family.

"It will be based on my experience with Oommen Chandy. He is a saint and what happened to us is a miracle," said Susheela, a resident of Kannur's Kalliasseri grama panchayat where 17 of the 18 wards are with the CPM, and one with the CPI.

In 2010, Susheela was struggling to raise money for the cochlear implant surgery of her son Sujith. He was then 22 years old. Susheela phoned Oommen Chandy, then the Leader of the Opposition in the Kerala Assembly.

"The surgery cost around Rs 10 lakh and I had raised only Rs 6 lakh. That's why I called him," she said.

At the end of the 15-minute call, Chandy told her not to cry or struggle anymore. "He told me to contact MIMS in Kozhikode and the money would be arranged."

Susheela Velayudhan and her son Sujith. Photo: Special arrangement

But before she could call MIMS, the hospital contacted her saying the money had been arranged for the surgery.

On Wednesday when Onmanorama contacted Susheela, Sujith was at his aluminium fabrication shop at Kalliasseri. "He had a late start but is now leading a normal life. He can hear and his vision is perfect," said his mother.

How Oommen Chandy cared for the family
In 2004, Susheela's husband Velayudhan died of a heart attack, leaving her with three little children -- two girls and the youngest a boy -- Sujith. He was born deaf and suffered from a degenerative eye disease that doctors said will leave him blind soon.

Velayudhan used to run furniture shops in Kannur and Pazhayangadi. "We were well off but his death pushed us into financial hardship because we had no investments," she said.

Sujith's health condition scared Susheela. There was no treatment in allopathy for Sujith's eye disease, which slowly weakened his optic nerve, she said. "He was born deaf. We could not think of him turning blind," she said.

After asking around, she found that Sreedhareeyam Ayurvedic Eye Hospital And Research Center at Koothattukulam, around 50km from Kochi, was treating a similar condition. Every year, she takes Sujith to Sreedhareeyam for a 21-day course. "It costs around Rs 1.5 lakh," she said.

He heard me out without interrupting me with a word

Susheela Velayudhan on Oommen Chandy

Back then, she did not have a job. She raised money from her family for the eye treatment.

She learned speech therapy to help him understand words. "But it was of little use because he was not able to hear me. But he picked up a lot of words by reading my lips," she said.

Illustration: Jain David M/Manorama Online

When Sujith was born in 1987, Susheela and Velayudhan had not heard of cochlear implants, which help children born with moderate to total hearing loss perceive sound. With therapy, they can learn to understand speech, too.

"I came to know about cochlear implant surgery when I took the speech therapy class. Since then I wanted Sujith to have one," she said.

But the implant gadget costs around Rs 4 lakh to Rs 5 lakh, and the external gadget costs upwards of Rs 6 lakh. Susheela “shelved the dream but knew only a cochlear implant would bring joy into his life".

Every year, she took Sujith to Koothattukulam for eye treatment. She also started squirreling away money for the implant surgery. She met Kasaragod MP P Karunakaran seeking help. "He took our petition to the Union government and got Rs 1 lakh," she said.

With that, she raised around Rs 6 lakh and deposited the money with Aster MIMS in Kozhikode, where Sujith's preliminary check-up was done.

In 2010, when she took a 23-year-old Sujith to Koothattukulam for treatment, she met another parent, who was from "some other corner of Kerala". "He gave me the number of Oommen Chandy sir and asked me to call him".

Oommen Chandy. Photo: File Image/ Manorama

She called. "I heard a long helloooo".

Susheela told him that she was a widow with three children, how her husband died, and the health conditions of Sujith. "I spoke for around a quarter of an hour nonstop. He heard me out without interrupting me with a word."

"After I stopped, Oommen Chandy told me not to cry again. Don't struggle again. He said he will contact MIMS and arrange the money."

Such a thing rarely happens to anybody, she said. "People stand in queue with petitions and it will take months. Sometimes, the petition itself gets lost," she said.

Chandy had asked her to get in touch with MIMS in Kozhikode. "When I returned to Kannur from Koothattukulam, the hospital contacted me before I could call," she said.

MIMS told her that the money for the surgery had been arranged and she should fix an appointment with the doctor at her convenience.

"Looking back, I think it was a miracle. Even now I think it is a miracle," she said.

Oommen Chandy. File photo: Manorama

When Sujith was stretchered into the operation theatre, a staffer from the reception came and said there was a call for Sujith's caregiver. "I attended the call and heard the same helloooo," said Susheela, still in disbelief. He was in the US then.

"'Isn't mon's operation today? It will go fine. I will call you on reaching back', he told me."

After the surgery, Sujith stayed in the hospital for 15 days and underwent training and therapy to react to sound.

"Then I insisted that he hear Oommen Chandy's voice. The doctor called him and gave the phone to Sujith. My son heard Oommen Chandy saying helloooo and he replied with a hello," said Susheela.

Susheela said that even after the surgery Oommen Chandy took care of the expenses of gadgets and therapy. "He called up people and they would come to our help."

MIMS Hospital's owner pitched in with Rs 1 lakh and an ENT doctor gave Rs 2 lakh, she recalled.

After the surgery, when Sujith and Susheela went to Sreedhareeyam at Koothattukulam, the municipal chairman of Piravom came to meet them. "He was sent by Oommen Chandy sir. He always had our family on his mind," she said.

Susheela met Oommen Chandy only after he became the chief minister in 2011. "When he came to the guest house in Kannur, I went to meet him," she said.

She petitioned him to bring a scheme to bear the cost of treatment of children born with hearing impairment. "I told him there were hundreds of children suffering from the same fate as Sujith and their parents cannot afford the implants."

In 2012, Oommen Chandy's government introduced Sruthi Tharangam, which provides cochlear implants to children under the age of five years. "I am not claiming any credit for it. Neither has Oommen Chandy said anything about us," she said.

Susheela now runs a paper bag-making unit at Kalliasseri that provides jobs to 32 women. Also, the royalty from her novel 'Varthamanam' goes to fund the education of children of widows.

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