It was a drive that would normally take at least 13 hours by road – from the northern Kerala district of Kannur to the southern-most district of Thiruvananthapuram. But all it took Abdul Thameem, an ambulance driver from Kasargod, was just six hours to cover the distance of over 500km.
Of course, there was plenty of motivation for Thameem to make the taxing journey as rapidly as possible, since the life of a new-born infant hung in the balance.
The 31-day-old infant, suffering from a congenital heart disease had to be transported urgently for a surgery from the Pariyaram Medical College in Kannur to the Sree Chitra Tirunal Institute for Medical Sciences and Technology (SCTIMST) in the state capital. Starting off at 8.30pm on Wednesday night, Thameem's ambulance safely delivered the infant to the hospital in Thiruvanathapuram at 3.23am the next morning.
In this drive against time, however, Thameem wasn't alone. It was a combined effort by the police and hundreds of volunteers spread across districts, that made this otherwise impossible task happen. From 8 30 pm to 4 am the next morning, several volunteers ventured out to clear the roads so that the ambulance could pass through without any hindrance.
For 27-year-old Thameem, this was nothing less than the most challenging journey in his five-year career.
"I was told that I need to get the child to Thiruvanathapuram in under eight hours, since she was on oxygen supply. We didn't stop anywhere, except for in Kozhikode to fill diesel. I don't remember having to step on the brakes at all, since volunteers and the traffic police ensured that we didn't face any problem," Thameem says.
Fathima Labia, the daughter of Kasargod natives Siraj and Ayesha, was admitted to the Pariyaram hospital on Monday. However, the hospital's Public Relations Officer (PRO) Dileep told TNM, this had only been an intermittent measure, since the hospital is the only one in the district that has a neo-natal ICU.
Once the family secured an appointment for emergency surgery at the SCTIMST hospital in Thiruvananthapuram, the massive task ahead of them was to shift the baby in time for the surgery.
The family then called for a private ambulance owned by the Cherkala Muslim Charitable Centre (CMCC), driven by Thameem. An organisation called Child Protect Team (CPT), which intervenes in issues relating to children, was also roped in through the Pariyaram hospital staff.
Speaking to TNM, CPT's State General Secretary Sunil says that the organisation was called in to help ensure that no roadblocks delayed the ambulance along its journey down the length of the state.
"We have a WhatsApp group with our representatives, ambulance drivers and police officials. Once we got information at around 7.30 pm that this child needed to be shifted to Thiruvananthapuram, another dedicated WhatsApp group was created for this mission. Our representatives in every district reached out to the concerned police stations and sought help to clear the traffic. They were on the road ensuring that the ambulance could pass through without delay," Sunil explains.
As the ambulance passed through Kozhikode, Thrissur, Ernakulam and Alappuzha districts it was led speedily by police pilot vehicles in their respective jurisdictions.
At the end of his drive against time, Thameem could only feel a sense of accomplishment at fulfilling his task.
"I wasn't keeping track of the time at all, I was concentrating on getting the child to the hospital as early as possible," he says.
The doctors at SCTIMST hospital are performing a surgery on baby Fathima on Friday. A doctor told TNM that the baby was put on a mechanical ventilator as soon as she was brought in, so that her condition could be stabilised.