Seema Rai died in 2009 after an illegal organ transplant. It has been a long fight for her family, with no closure even now.

A Bengaluru womans death and her familys 8 year long battle against Fortis hospitalSeema Rai
news Medical Tuesday, December 26, 2017 - 16:37

In 2009, Pankaj Rai lost his wife Seema after an illegal organ transplant procedure at Fortis hospital in Bannerghatta, Bengaluru. The following years saw Pankaj locked in a legal tussle with Fortis to get justice for Seema. 

Now, eight years later, no one has been punished, nor has any action been taken against the doctors or the hospital.

While Pankaj agreed for a settlement with Fortis two years ago, the legal fight is being taken forward in the Karnataka High Court by Seema’s uncle, BB Lal. 

"After years of fighting, we were tired. It had taken a heavy emotional and financial toll on me and my family. That is why I decided to settle," Pankaj tells TNM.

Reports suggest that the amount Pankaj could claim in damages could be up to Rs 6 crore. However, Fortis offered to settle for a substantially lesser amount, which Pankaj is not at liberty to divulge as per the MoU he signed with Fortis in November 2015. However, he alleges that Fortis played him here as well, but more on that later.

Meanwhile, Dr Savio Pereira, a medico-legal expert who is representing Seema’s uncle Lal in the court, filed the petition in February 2017. Regardless of the settlement between Pankaj and the hospital, Savio explains why it is important to bring the case to its logical legal conclusion.

“The criminal proceedings against Fortis were stayed in 2015. However, this is a question of law. The issue of compromise or settlement does not arise for heinous crimes like rape, murder and unnatural death; and forgery of valuable records with the intention of covering up the crimes. These are definitely not civil cases,” he asserts.

The case is yet to come up for hearing. 

The Seema Rai case

In 2009, 43-year-old Seema Rai was a patient of severe diabetes and was undergoing treatment at a hospital which was bought by Fortis in 2010. 

On May 1, Seema was admitted to undergo a kidney transplant the next day. Dr Ramcharan Thiagarajan allegedly advised Seema for a pancreas transplant as the organ was available for harvest from the same corpse but had no recipient.

Pankaj said that while Seema was reluctant for the pancreas transplant, she reserved her decision until her meeting with the cardiologist before the surgery, which apparently never happened.

When Seema was already in surgery and Pankaj had gone out to get some medicines, a nurse allegedly presented a form to their daughter and asked her to sign for her mother as well. She was told that it was for a routine check-up. The form was taken away from her before she could realise what it was for.

This, apparently, was the consent form for transplantation of pancreas as well. 

After post-operative complications and being on ventilator till May 6, Seema passed away after cardiac failure.

It also turned out that Fortis performed the pancreas transplant though it did not have license for it. Pankaj filed a complaint with Appropriate Authority, constituted under the Transplantation of Human Organs and Tissues Act. 

However, Dr V Raju, the then Joint Director (Medical), Department of Health and Family Welfare Services, submitted a report saying that Fortis was not at fault. Pankaj approached the Lokayukta against Raju and later, filed a writ petition in the Karnataka High Court as well. 

The court quashed Appropriate Authority’s initial order in September 2011 and after fresh investigations, the Authority found Fortis guilty of having conducted the surgery without license and without the patient’s informed consent. 

After five years of legal struggle by Pankaj, the Appellate Authority cancelled Fortis’ license to transplant kidneys, liver and conduct homograft in 2014. 

A chargesheet against Dr Raju and PK Davidson, then Facility Director at the hospital, was filed on May 8, 2015 on charges of forgery on Fortis’ application for organ transplantation license submitted to the government. 

Allegations of forgery

Lal’s impleading application to the court, a copy of which is with TNM, accuses Dr Raju of colluding with management at Fortis, represented by Malvinder Singh (Fortis Chairperson) and Shivinder Singh (Executive Vice Chairperson). On behalf of the management, Dr Raju inserted the word ‘pancreas’ in the existing application to give the impression that they applied for the license of transplanting pancreas as well.

“But the license is very clear. It was only granted for three organs – liver, kidneys and conducting homograft,” Savio says.

The settlement

After years of legal battle, Pankaj agreed for a settlement, but here too Fortis did not pay him the full amount he says. The neutral third party chosen by Fortis to oversee the settlement, one Rajiv Mehta, allegedly took a significant part of the settlement amount from Pankaj to oversee the process.

Pankaj also says that Rajiv Mehta was a fake identity given to a person who was actually a senior executive at Fortis, and therefore not a neutral third party.

And despite his decision to settle for his and his family’s sanity, Pankaj says he has not been freed from legal hassles. He continues to have to go to court for a defamation suit filed by Fortis’ counsel CV Nagesh due to a complaint of professional misconduct Pankaj made against him to the Bar Council.

Life for the last 8 years has been difficult to say the least. And while he intends to go to court against Fortis’ misconduct during the settlement process, he wishes, more than anything, for his and his family’s peace of mind.

"Adjournments and delays can bring a person to his knees,” says the 59-year-old wearily, “especially when fighting an opponent who is a financially strong corporate. I didn't know if complete justice would come in my lifetime or even in my daughter's lifetime. Now that an MoU was signed, I cannot speak on the merits of the case. My only appeal to Malvinder Singh, is for Fortis to leave us alone for good."

Fortis has declined comment on any of the above allegations. 

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