Like most teenagers out there, Devananda says she feels a bit overwhelmed with everything happening around her, albeit in a positive way. In just a couple of weeks, she lost a portion of her liver, saved her father’s life, hit the gym for the first time, went on a diet and is focusing on her academics as her twelfth standard public examination is near. Meet Devananda PP, India’s youngest living organ donor. “I even had to workout for a couple of weeks before the transplant surgery as I was diagnosed with mild fatty liver and had to go on a diet,” says Devananda in a freewheeling telephonic chit chat with Happiest Health.
She approached the Kerala High Court because a minor (below the age of 18) cannot become an organ donor in India as per the existing laws. Her father Pratheesh PG runs an internet cafe and parlour in Thrissur. He had intense swelling and pain in his leg in August 2022. The family took him for a medical examination.
“It was on Onam day last year (2022) when my father’s (Pratheesh) leg became swollen and he was in unbearable pain. We were in for a rude shock when the results came,” says Devananda.
Pratheesh was diagnosed with chronic liver disease with Hepatocellular cancer and according to the doctors at Rajagiri Hospital, Aluva, Kerala, a liver transplant was the only viable treatment option to save his life.
“Initially we tried to get donors for my father. One of our relatives came forward but backed out due to some reasons. We did not have many options,” Devananda adds.
Her mother Dhanya KV, a homemaker was also distraught with the delay. But someone pointed out that it would have been all fine if only Devananda was 18 years of age, especially as her blood group is O positive, the universal donor group.
“I overheard it and told my mother I was willing to do it. At the time, I was not aware of these complications,” Devananda recollects.
Legal hurdles and race against time
However Devananda was told that as she was legally a minor and she cannot donate as per the existing provisions of the Transplantation of Human Organs and Tissues Act 1994 and Transplantation of Human Organs and Tissues Rules 2014.
“I asked for one good reason why I shouldn’t save my father,” Devananda recollects.
“In a previous case, a minor had approached the court seeking permission to donate liver to his father but the surgery did not happen. I also started to read about similar cases on the net,” Devananda adds.
In Sept 22, a boy from Uttar Pradesh had sought legal permission to donate liver to his father but the Supreme Court could not pass a final order due to his father’s sudden death.
In Pratheesh’s case, the petition was filed in November and initially the court issued an interim order in which a three member committee of experts were asked to evaluate. Interestingly, the committee concluded that Pratheesh was not eligible as a recipient as per the existing Milan, UCSF and Kyoto liver transplant guidelines.
“I had to make multiple trips to Thiruvananthapuram to meet the committee and present our case but they declined permission,” she recollects.
When the matter came before the court, Devananda and her counsel placed their argument before the court. The plea was for a willing act of kindness and a desperate attempt to save her father’s life.
“My main argument was if I could do something to save my father willingly then why shouldn’t I be allowed to do it,” she adds.
Another team of experts from Rajagiri Hospital filed a report before the court along with medical evidence that it was the only option available for Pratheesh. On December 12, the court ruled in her favour and granted her permission to donate her liver. The court also pointed in its order that the law was more regulatory in its intent than prohibitory.
“I applaud the petitioner’s fight to save her father’s life. Blessed are parents who have children like Devananda,” said High Court Justice VG Arun in his order.
“I wasn’t very tense before the surgery because I had already decided that I have to do this for my father, come what may. But my parents were a bit worried, especially my father. He was constantly asking how painful this procedure would be for me,” Devananda says.
The team of doctors at Rajagiri Hospital performed the transplant surgery successfully on February 9. Both Pratheesh and Devananda are now at home and are doing well.
“I have my exams coming up. I am a science stream student and want to become a doctor. But I am yet to decide which specialisation I should follow in medicine,” she adds. She admits 2022 was a tumultuous and emotional year for her but also added that she was all set to appear for her twelfth standard exam commencing on March 14.
“Both Devananda and Pratheesh responded well to the surgery. There has been a recent drop in the number of cadaveric organ donations (after brain death) in Kerala. This is one of the reasons Devananda had to come forward and do this,” says Dr Ramachandran Narayana Menon, Chief, Multi organ transplant services, Rajagiri Hospital in an official video statement released from the hospital.