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|July 5, 2000|
Two years after his wife Anuradha died following alleged malpractice by prominent physicians in Calcutta, Dr Kunal Saha is still waiting for his chance to fight the matter out in court -- from 10,000 miles away.
Saha says he won't give up his search for justice for his wife who, he says, died due to blatantly wrong treatment by three Calcutta doctors. Saha named the doctors as Sukumar Mukherjee, Abani Roychowdhury and dermatologist Baidynath Halder.
"My search for justice is still being throttled at almost every step through the sinister influence of these doctors," he says.
Saha, MD, PhD, and an assistant professor at the department of pediatrics, medical microbiology and immunology, Children's Hospital, Columbus, Ohio, is angry and bitter -- his Rs 77 million malpractice suit was filed nearly two years ago.
"I had to fight and bring almost every single system supposed to provide justice in a civilized society to the court... which shows the glaring levels of corruption and dishonesty that exist in India," he says.
On June 28, Saha won a minor victory when the chief justice of the Calcutta high court allowed his petition seeking permission to present evidence provided by experts using video conferencing. It was a first.
Earlier that month, Saha had executed another first. He ran personal ads in major dailies in West Bengal appealing to other victims of malpractice who had never received justice. Their stories are to be a part of the case in the hearing.
Saha's saga began in April 1998 when he and his wife were visiting Calcutta to visit their families. After a few days in Calcutta, Anuradha, 36, developed a cold, a fever and minor skin rash which looked like it was spreading a week later.
The family was concerned and they fixed up an appointment with a reputed doctor, Dr Sukumar Mukherjee.
Saha, who was also born and brought up in Calcutta and who graduated in the top of his class from Nilratan Sarkar Medical College there, asked his friends and professors about Mukherjee's reputation and received glowing reports.
The skin rash was diagnosed as toxic epidermal necrolysis, an immune disorder that is fatal in 15-40 per cent cases. Anuradha's condition worsened, but the doctors were apparently certain that it would improve.
Saha says he saw Mukherjee inject his wife with 80 milligrams of Depo-medrol. Mukherjee also prescribed 80 milligrams twice a day. Over the next five days, 800 mg of Depo-medrol found their way into Anuradha. Months later, in correspondence with Pharmacia-UpJohn in the US, makers of the steroid, Saha learnt that the correct dosage was 40 to 120 milligrams once every two to four weeks.
After six days of this treatment, Anuradha's condition worsened. Her skin peeled off. She was then admitted to the Advanced Medical Research Institute.
She was shifted to Breach Candy Hospital, Bombay, where she died on May 28. The cause of death was listed as septic shock with systemic candidiasis, a frequent side effect of excessive steroids.
With help from other researchers, Saha concluded that the doctors were negligent.
Eighteen months after his wife's death, Saha initiated a lawsuit against the three doctors in Calcutta. They tried to quash the lawsuit but failed, says Saha.
In November last year, the three doctors filed a defamation suit against Malay Ganguly, Saha's brother-in-law who is fighting the case for him in Calcutta. It was intended to stop him from proceeding with his lawsuit, Saha says.
"The question of defaming these doctors does not arise since my petition against these doctors has been admitted by all three court systems in India: at the lower Alipore court, the Calcutta high court and the Supreme Court of India. Not only were these influential doctors able to have their phony suit (against Ganguly) admitted, they were also able to have (the news) published in the local newspaper, obviously to whitewash their failing images in the eyes of general public," says Saha.
In December 1999, Saha filed a writ petition at the Calcutta high court against the West Bengal Medical Council for "deliberately protecting these doctors".
WBMC is the only organization where these doctors are registered and it has the power to take away their practising licenses after due inquiry. Saha also appealed simultaneously to the Medical Council of India, urging them to protect patients from malpractice by doctors. The MCI sat on his request for months before referring him back to the WBMC, which said it had not received anything from Saha. So Saha re-sent everything. He also had original receipts from FedEx to confirm that they had received his previous package. He says he has also meticulously taped all phone conversations.
Six months later, in December, the high court issued a show-cause notice to the WBMC. This made headlines in the dailies in Calcutta. If that was one step forward, then another event in the same month was a minor setback -- the court ruled that the doctors did not have to be present except on the day of examination and judgment.
Eager for the trial to begin and for the evidence to be presented, Saha agreed. After some more setbacks, in March 2000, the Calcutta high court finally declared that the WBMC has 12 weeks to complete an investigation.
"It's not only the few doctors in Calcutta anymore, the whole medical society in India is threatened because, for the first time, they are being brought to justice."
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