From donating blood and platelets, to arranging donors any time a patient is in need, Shahjahan has been a saviour for hundreds at the Regional Cancer Centre.

Man in red t shirt and jeans sits on a bed put outdoors
news Human Interest Friday, September 18, 2020 - 16:33

Twelve, maybe 13 years ago, Shahjahan was standing in a queue at the Regional Cancer Centre (RCC) in Thiruvananthapuram, to donate blood. There, in the dark corridor, he saw clueless parents of terminally ill children coming from far-off places and not knowing where to get the blood needed for their children. Some dialled numbers from a notebook to get in touch with donors, others just looked helpless.

Shahjahan, driven by memories of his mother dying of cancer when he was a child, began finding donors for these hapless people. It became a habit. Every day he’d be there from noon onwards, bringing donors with him, phone numbers to call, and providing every other help he could think of. He accepted no token of appreciation from anyone and earned his living running a vegetable stall in the Chalai market. A dozen years of service later, Shahjahan is a godlike presence in the lives of many.

“Four years ago, I came to Thiruvananthapuram with my 27-year-old son, who had cancer of the blood. My husband had died and my daughters were married. I didn’t know anyone in Thiruvananthapuram. My son needed a lot of blood every day. That’s when the security person at the RCC told me about Shahjahan, that he could help. For the 1.5 years that I stayed at the hospital, Shahjahan helped us every single day. He is a living god to us,” says Usha, a teacher from Kuttiyadi in Kozhikode.

Her son didn’t make it. He died the next year. But Usha teacher could not forget Shahjahan. “I once asked him why he did it and he told me about his mother. He wouldn’t accept even a cup of tea, I’ve never seen anyone so sincere and selfless. Not even a fellow villager in Kuttiyadi would offer such help.”

Shahjahan donates blood

Shahjahan’s mother Umaiban had died of cancer when he was a child and he has been donating blood ever since he was eligible. “Every patient needs several units of blood. People who come from distant Malabar run hither and thither in search of donors. I’d see mothers sitting in corners with a notebook, calling numbers of donors one after the other. Many bystanders have such lists of donors. I began collecting donors from just about everywhere I could think of,” says Shahjahan, who has just got back home from the RCC.

Shahjahan lives in Attakulangara with his wife and four-month-old baby. Amid the baby’s cries, he talks of the days he’d step outside the RCC and speak to random people on the road, asking if they were interested in donating blood to an ill patient. “It could be taxi drivers who wait there for long hours for a patient. It could be shop owners near the place I live.”

He has made connections with many such shops. Ramachandra Textiles in Attakulangara has a group of volunteers ready to donate blood when there’s an emergency. There’s another group in the nearby Kalyan Silks. College students are another reliable group he can call on.

“I don’t know how he makes these contacts. He has brought people from all these shops and held donation camps. There are others who help out at the RCC but Shahjahan is one person who never tires of helping. Every morning he would be there at 11, ready for service. And no matter how many people call him for help or what time, he’d always be ready to serve,” says Dr Vijayalekshmi of the RCC blood bank.

Shahjahan with some donors he brought to the RCC

She, like Usha teacher, had initially wondered if Shahjahan gained anything from it, but found out there was nothing of the sort. Every morning he would see to his ‘pachakari’ (vegetables) and then head to the RCC without fail.

Shahjahan’s day starts at 3 in the morning. He goes to the Chalai market and unloads the vegetables, tends to his shop till 10 am and goes home for a bath and some food before starting for the RCC. Rain, sun and the coronavirus have not stopped him from going.

It pained him that patients were suffering due to lack of blood donors when the spread of COVID-19 caused volunteers to stop visiting the RCC. He wrote a post on March 12, requesting people to donate blood to help the hundreds of patients under treatment at the RCC. “Young people in the capital city should come forward. Without waiting for anyone to call them, they should come and volunteer to donate blood to the sick,” he wrote.

The post got shared hundreds of times, and volunteers came forward to donate blood.

But despite all his efforts, Shahjahan is often upset hearing stories of people dying from the dreaded disease. He gets close to the people he helps, being in touch with them every day, seeing them in the wards.

Shahjahan remembers Krishnankutty, who had come to the RCC from Palakkad’s Chittoor with a sick child, a son aged eight. Financially not well off, the man was torn apart by his son’s condition. The boy didn’t make it. Three years later, Krishnankutty was back at the RCC, holding Shahjahan’s hands and crying aloud. His second child – a girl of seven – too had been diagnosed with cancer.

Krisnankutty with his wife and (late) daughter

“Why did both my children get sick?” the man asked between sobs. Shahjahan had no answer. When the daughter too died, the parents were shattered. Shahjahan accompanied them to their hometown, as he often does when bereaved bystanders are too lost to do anything on their own.

“Shajikka (Shahjahan) came to my place in Nelluvai, a village in Thrissur,” says Dijeesh, a cancer survivor. He was a school student when he reached the RCC seven years ago after being diagnosed with acute myeloid leukaemia (AML). Someone gave his mother Shahjahan’s number. “We knew no one there. My uncle and aunt were there to help but Shajikka would come any time we called. He would bring volunteers any time my count went low. He has donated blood himself,” says Dijeesh, now a graduate.

Shahjahan used to donate blood every few months before he realised that platelets were more in demand and then began donating platelets. “You can donate your platelets once every three days,” he says knowledgeably.

All he hopes to see in return is a smile and moments of relief at having got through another day.

Recognising his services, the Kerala State AIDS Control Society gave an award to Shahjahan. It was presented by Health Minister KK Shailaja.

To contact him, call 9699694969.

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