Negligence
How a simple hair transplant procedure killed a medical student in Chennai

"For us, everything has been a struggle. He was our only child and we wanted him to be happy," cried Josebeen.

A simple enough hair transplant turned into a horrific ordeal leading to the death of Josebeen’s only son Santosh Kumar, a final year MBBS student at the Madras Medical College.

Santosh's parents Josebeen and Pandiaraj want justice for him, a son born 12 years after their marriage.

Though Santosh died on May 17th, the story came to the fore following a report by Pushpa Narayan in The Times of India. 

Santosh got his surgery done at the Advanced Robotic Hair Transplant Centre in Nungambakkam, a salon that has a license only for hair cutting and styling. But clearly, they were conducting procedures that were almost minor surgeries without any requisite clearance.

The centre has now been sealed by authorities. The transplant was done by Dr Hariprasad Kasturi, an anaesthetist, and Dr A Vineeth Suryakumar, a doctor who got his MBBS degree from a college in China.

ALSO READ: Buried in Chennai’s hair-transplant tragedy, the stigma attached to being bald

What happened to Santosh?

It was a case of grade 2 baldness - where baldness is present in the front of the head. 

Santosh had opted for the Follicular Unit Extraction (FUE), a technique in which follicular units are removed directly from the donor area. The grafts are then transplanted into bald areas.

It is performed under local anaesthesia and the procedure needs to be performed by a surgeon as it is considered a minor surgical procedure.

Dr Vineeth Kumar, the doctor at ARHT Transplant centre who performed the procedure, was not a surgeon equipped with either a dermatology or plastic surgery degree - a basic qualification in the field.

Moreover, Dr Hariprasad Kasturi, the anaesthetist was not present throughout the procedure after administering anesthesia – another basic requirement ignored.

Santosh’s friend Jayapraveen told TNM that he had not been planning to get a hair transplant immediately and simply wanted to consult various centres. The cost?  Rs. 1,20,000 to Rs.1,50,000.  "The ARHT transplant centre told Santosh if he paid the advance now he would get a 50 percent discount. So he agreed, and his mother accompanied him to the procedure,” Jayapraveen said.

Gradually, Santosh showed signs of discomfort as the follicles were being replanted and was taken to the clinic where the anaesthetist worked. Drowsiness and a fever persisted, but the doctor had assured him that nothing was wrong and this wasn't unusual. "He was then taken to Guest Hospital in Kilpauk and given a paracetamol injection. But 10,000 rupees a night for admission? He couldn't afford it." 

As he left for his hometown Arni in Thiruvannamalai, it only got worse - fever, diarrhoea and vomiting. The next day his family admitted him to CMC Vellore, where he was shifted to the ICU. 

"On the way, his fingers started turning blue. His kidney failed and he was recommended dialysis. And the next day, he had multiple organ failure," Jayapraveen narrates. And finally, a cardiac arrest took his life on May 17th. Santosh had organ failure due to delayed anaphylaxis, an allergic reaction which can be triggered by anaesthesia.

Initially, the family did not want to file a police complaint because they wanted a peaceful cremation. But 3 days after his death, Santosh's friends convinced the family to file a police complaint, but were turned down by the police due to lack of strong evidence. 

"We then approached the Directorate of Medical Services on May 30 and thankfully, they listened to us," Jayapraveen says. The Directorate took strict action and Santosh's friends were relieved to see that the transplant centre had been sealed shut on their orders. The day after, the police finally agreed to file a complaint.

The sheer negligence of an unqualified doctor cost a life, rues Santosh’s father Pandiaraj. "I want strict action against the person who conducted the surgery and who administered the anaesthesia, Hariprasad. I want all other centres like this shut, so nothing else happens with another person. These men are solely responsible for my son's death," laments Pandiaraj. 

 "It depends on the level of their fault. We cannot say anything now. We need to know exactly what happened. Three things matter: the set-up of the place, what exactly happened and exact qualification of the people who carried out the surgery”, says Senthil, Medical Council President. of the Directorate of Medical Services.