A total of 65 cancer patients, 6 children and 82 attendees came in the bus journey
A total of 65 cancer patients, 6 children and 82 attendees came in the bus journey|EastMojo image
ASSAM

Journey home with 65 cancer patients amid COVID-19

65 cancer patients, 6 children who had just undergone heart surgeries were brought to Assam on six buses traversing 2,732 km. EastMojo traces their incredible journey

Amlan Jyoti Das

Amlan Jyoti Das

Guwahati: On May 9, 65 cancer patients, 6 children who had just undergone heart surgeries along with 82 attendants got on a bus for a 2732 km journey back home. They would be on the road for four days. A challenging task considering that the majority of the patients were undergoing critical treatment when the lockdown was announced.

“We had divided the patients into three categories. First the new patients, second those patients who had been undergoing chemo and radiotherapy with one or more months of therapy remaining. The third being those who had completed treatment," said Devashish Sharma, the joint resident commissioner of government-run guest house Assam Bhawan who was instrumental in transporting immunocompromised patients. He spoke exclusively to EastMojo.

“Many of the patients’ treatment stopped mid-way due to the lockdown, and most of them stated that had it been in Assam at least they would have figured out some way to continue with the treatment,” said Sharma. Many patients were frustrated, fearful and wanted to go home desperately. “Being immunocompromised, most of them felt that COVID-19 would eventually catch up with them.”

So the journey began from Navi Mumbai, crossing states of Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and West Bengal to finally arrive at Sarusajai Stadium in Guwahati at May 12.

The another important member of the transport team was ENT surgeon, Dr Neelakhi Chaudhury, she was at hand to take care of critical patients and others who might need medical attention.

Dr Neelakhi Chaudhury attending to patients inside the bus 
Dr Neelakhi Chaudhury attending to patients inside the bus  EastMojo image
 Devashish Sharma, Assistant Commissioner, Assam Bhawan with one of children 
Devashish Sharma, Assistant Commissioner, Assam Bhawan with one of children  EastMojo image

The initial idea was to travel by air, unfortunately during the mandatory COVID-19 test, 3 patients were found to be COVID-19 positive. The only option was to travel by road since airlines did not want to risk travel transmission. Some patients then hired ambulances to travel till Assam.

The health minister of Assam, Himanta Biswa Sarma stepped in and agreed for the government to fund Rs 64 lakhs needed for the operation. Since they were travelling with patients hence Volvo buses were booked. 12 drivers (two for each bus) needed convincing for the journey. Finally, they were off on their momentous journey.

The accident caused the windshield to break and drivers had to wear helmets 
The accident caused the windshield to break and drivers had to wear helmets  EastMojo image
The journey had its share of major and minor hiccups but the patients showed incredible spirit

Dr Neelakhi Chaudhury had he hands full taking care of patients. Upon reaching Assam she stated in an interview that the journey had its share of major and minor hiccups but the patients showed incredible spirit. Dr Chaudhury dealt with - stomach pains, dizziness, motion sickness, and dehydration. Some even needed injections and IV drips. For the already immunocompromised patients, even minor health complications can turn major quickly. Timely intervention by the doctor saw them all home.

The journey was not without adventure - a minor accident caused the windshield of a bus to shatter. “In such a journey with all the shops closed we opted to remove the broken windshield and carry on,” said Sharma. They had to borrow a helmet for the driver from a biker for the rest of the journey.

Upon reaching Assam three attendants and four patients were tested positive for COVID-19
Upon reaching Assam three attendants and four patients were tested positive for COVID-19 EastMojo image
This momentous journey was a success because many people came together. Neeta Doshi from Deepsikha NGO contacted Jain Mandir Trust, who organised food at several locations across stated. The Rotary Club of Mumbai Metropolitan ensured the constant supply of food for them in Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal.

This momentous journey was a success because many people came together. Neeta Doshi from Deepsikha NGO contacted Jain Mandir Trust, who organised food at several locations across stated. The Rotary Club of Mumbai Metropolitan ensured the constant supply of food for them in Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal.

Upon reaching Assam all the travellers were tested in the stadium and were put at Hotel Radisson Blu till their results came. Three attendants and four patients tested positive for COVID-19.

As you read this Devashish Sharma is still en-route going back to Mumbai already preparing to send the next batch of Assamese citizens back home. “We will plan the next travel via train if any case as such arises,” he ends.

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