In an age where social media grants you the freedom to stay superficial in most relationships, how far would you go to help a friend you have not met in 12 years?
Prasanna Gopinath, a 34-year-old entrepreneur from Chennai, went the whole distance and donated a lobe of his liver to save the life of a friend who he had last met in the United Kingdom in 2005.
Prasanna and Nirmiti, Pooja and her husband Anurag were housemates in U.K where they were all studying. But once they got back to India and settled in different cities, they lost touch.
Prasanna and Nirmiti
Pooja, a teacher who is now 44, developed liver cirrhosis soon after she returned to the country. This year however, her health deteriorated and doctors made it clear that a liver transplant is the only way out. Anurag ran from post to pillar, in an effort to save his wife and finally put out a message on social media describing the struggle.
That is when Prasanna came into the picture.
"As soon as we saw the Facebook post, my wife and I reached out to Anurag," says Prasanna. "There were no second thoughts about it. We really wanted to help," he adds.
Nirmiti was the first one to get tested for the transplant, but she failed to qualify. "One of the main problems Indians face is fatty liver. So I could not be of help. But then Prasanna decided to give it a go and passed all the required tests," says Nirmiti. The couple shuttled between Chennai and New Delhi to complete the required tests.
However, legal issues stalled the transplant even further. Liver transplantation involves the replacement of a diseased liver with some or all of a healthy liver from another person. "According to the rules, only a blood relative or a first cousin can become a live liver donor," explains Anurag. "So we had to prove that we were acquaintances and needed documents to show that we stayed together in the United Kingdom. The hospital conducted a 2 hour CBI like grilling session where we had to prove that this was being done willingly," he adds.
For Prasanna, this was hardly an issue. "They are more than friends for us. They are like family," he says. Nirmiti adds that she even calls them bhaiyya (brother) and bhabhi (sister-in-law).
But did they not worry about the procedure? "I was not afraid because I knew I was in the hands of capable surgeons and a reputed hospital," says Prasanna. "When you do something from your heart and if it is meant for the good of someone you love, the fear of any repercussion vanishes," he adds.
The surgery which was completed on July 21 lasted a nerve-wracking 13 hours. "To watch Prasanna and Pooja go into the operation theatre made me very anxious," admits Nirmiti. "But the doctors had explained the whole procedure to us and made it clear that there was nothing to worry about," she adds.
And they had been right.
While Prasanna has been discharged from the hospital and has been resting in the capital this last fortnight, Pooja is under surveillance in the general ward of the hospital.
"The doctors want to keep her for a week or two in order to avoid any scope for infection. Prasanna meanwhile is geared up to get back to Chennai," says Nirmiti.
The couple owns the â€˜Benzi petstayâ€™ in Chennai and are already missing their 'children' as they refer to the animals. "While I have been resting here, my friends have been of huge help. You need that kind of a support system that can compensate for your professional and personal duties when you embark on something like this," advices Prasanna.
For Anurag, the experience has been moving. "It was really unexpected when Prasanna and Nirmiti came up to us. In fact, there were more willing than even our blood relatives to lend a helping hand," he adds.