Gangrape victim flown to Singapore hospital renowned for transplants

In a last-ditch effort to save her life, doctors on Wednesday night flew the 23-year-old Delhi gangrape victim to Singapore for treatment at Mount Elizabeth Hospital, renowned for conducting multiple transplants.

A private air ambulance with ventilator facility left Delhi airport around 11.10 pm with the woman and nine other passengers, including her parents, Dr Yatin Gupta, the head of Safdarjung Hospital's Critical Care Unit, and a team of doctors.

The woman's siblings followed on a commercial flight.

Sources said the government decided to fly her out on Tuesday afternoon, and Safdarjung Hospital authorities were directed that evening to prepare her to move. For a final opinion, cardiovascular surgeon Dr Naresh Trehan was invited to the hospital on Wednesday morning.

Dr Trehan seconded the view of other surgeons that despite a fresh cardiovascular complication in the wee hours of Wednesday, the woman was stable enough to fly. Besides, a successful intestinal transplant, her only shot at a "complete recovery", has not been performed in India so far.

After hush hush preparations through the day, the woman was finally driven out of the hospital in an ambulance around 10.30 pm. The specialised private Club One air ambulance with the call sign VT ARE was expected to fly her to Singapore in around six hours. The aircraft has a multi-engine turbine that minimises air turbulence, sources said.

Earlier on Wednesday, the government contacted Mount Elizabeth Hospital, which has treated Indian celebrities and politicians earlier. The hospital was intimated them of the woman's case and condition, and a formal arrangement was made for her admission. The ministry of external affairs completed all passport and visa formalities for the family within hours.

A PTI report quoted the woman's father as saying the family had not been told where they were being taken. "We don't know anything. We don't know where we are going. All we have been told is we are going abroad. Me, my wife and the entire family is going with her (the victim)," he said.

The woman's brother had repeatedly told The Indian Express that the family was keen she is treated abroad. This was at a time when several private hospitals in India had been asking to treat her.

Late on Wednesday night after the air ambulance had taken off, Dr B D Athani, medical superintendent of Safdarjung Hospital, said the woman had been given "the best of the available medical aid" during her 10-day treatment at the hospital.

"With fortitude and courage, the girl survived the after-effects of the injuries so far well. But the condition continues to be critical. Based on the advice of a team of doctors, the Government of India has made arrangements for the patient being shifted in a well-equipped air ambulance," Athani said.

He said Singapore had been chosen because it was comparatively close and the hospital has a state-of-the-art multi-organ transplant facility. The treatment might take weeks, Athani said.

Sources told The Indian Express that while experts at Safdarjung Hospital felt they were competent to manage the patient, the suggestion to move her was made by doctors in the team assisting them.

The first signs of moving the patient were seen around 5 pm on Wednesday. At 5.30 pm, with heavy police deployment at the hospital, the woman's brother was brought to the medical superintendent's office. Her parents were already waiting there with two duffel bags. A PCR van then brought in more bags and a bunch of files which police officers said were treatment records. The hospital cancelled two health bulletins on her condition at 4.30 pm and 6.30 pm.

Around 10 pm, three ambulances were brought outside the ICU building. Two one belonging to Safdarjung Hospital and the other to a private charitable organisation were possibly decoys. The third, a Medanta ambulance in which Dr P K Verma, head of emergency, and other intensivists were travelling, is believed to be the one in which the woman was taken away.

Over the next half hour, two patients, complete with cardiac monitor, oxygen mask and ventilator, and surrounded by teams of doctors, were taken to two ambulances. At 10.35 pm, a third patient possibly the victim was brought out and wheeled inside the Medanta ambulance, surrounded by ICU doctors. The patient was on a ventilator and cardiac monitor, and appeared to be covered in bandages from face to abdomen.

(With Geeta Gupta)

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