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25th April 1999

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Will you give?

Helped by a captain's knock, the race is on to purchase an urgently needed MRI scanner for the National Hospital

BY Udena.R.Attygalle

A swinging willow, a deadly yorker and a trophy for the best team. The World Cup is up for grabs again .

will you give?While all stops are being pulled to bring back the ICC trophy from England here in Sri Lanka a group of bankers together with some cricketers and many in the public are battling to bring an apparatus of a different kind to the National Hospital in Colombo. An MRI scanner.

A Magnetic Resonance Imaging Scanner costs Rs. 60 million. Only two are available in Sri Lanka: both at private hospitals. Each scan costs between Rs 7500 to Rs 15,000.

The cost being beyond the average patient, many have no access to this vital diagnostic instrument for spinal problems and brain tumours. They are compelled to undergo neurosurgery without the benefit of the best investigative method available.

"It's a blind operation where the doctor has no knowledge of the exact position of the tumour," said Dr. Colvin Samarasinghe, consultant neurologist at the National Hospital. The consequences of such an operation may sometimes prove costly.

"Those who can afford it, get a scan at a private hospital and come to the National Hospital for treatment. So, basically there are two ways of treatment. It is to provide everyone with the best treatment that we decided to act."

The government does pay for one scan per week but this is not sufficient . Most have to use the newly acquired CT scanner; But information provided by this is not as accurate.

"Selecting the one patient for the MRI scan too leaves the doctors in a quandary with so many desperately needing it," added Dr. Samarasinghe.

Half of the 60 million needed was pledged by the President's Fund. A further 16 million in donations was collected through the vigorous efforts of the Neuro Surgery Trust of the hospital. The collection started in 1995.

It is in search of the remaining sum that the banks began this laudable innings of charity. The NDB took the initiative and opened the innings. Today most of the commercial banks in Sri Lanka have pitched in.

The banks gave themselves five months to go after their target of Rs. 12 million. The game plan is two pronged. One being direct donations and the other the now popular Arjuna Ranatunge cap.

With the head man of the Sri Lankan cricket team lending his support to the cause the sale of caps has been ever increasing. The blue cotton cap, priced at Rs 250 with Arjuna's signature and the Lion emblem on it is of premium quality. A raffle ticket on the receipts from the cap sale will also offer as a prize an air ticket to the UK and a ticket for the World Cup final for one lucky winner!

The collection to date is approximately Rs 6.5 million. But direct donations have brought in only Rs 200,000.

"Make that final run" appealed the AGM Marketing at NDB Shehara De Silva.

Donations of any amount over Rs 50 by cheque, can be made payable to " NDBSL MRI SCANNER A/C" and sent to P.O BOX 1827 - MRI or donations can be sent by registered post to the Hony Treasurer, Department of Neuro-Surgery Trust Fund, General Hospital, Regent Street, Colombo 10. Contributions to the hospital are be tax exempt.

In addition to the original stock of 50,000 caps, more are being ordered according to Anjum Cader, senior executive marketing at NDB.

The need for the scanner is obviously urgent. Being a part of it may not be as attractive as the World Cup but it would sure make us worthy champions.

Arjuna's appeal

Sri Lankan captain Arjuna Ranatunge who, most willingly lent his signature to 50,000 caps to swell the collections to the Fund must be a happy man that the project is a success.

"Don't just buy a cap. But do it with the thought that it will help save the lives of so many patients in the neuro- surgical ward at the National Hospital," is Arjuna's personal appeal.

A fine gesture

An email made a few Sri Lankans working at the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Authority) in Vienna spring into action to get down caps and help the cause. Ambassador R Poolokasingham had 250 caps air freighted and they were literally grabbed by the staff of IAEA. Soon an order came for more caps. The collection exceeded Rs 75,000. Meanwhile, they sent the hat round and collected another 9,000 Austrian Shillings (Rs 50,000) as a special donation.

Niroshani's story

It was in Ward 10 that we met 20-year-old Niroshani Gunawardena: a girl whom destiny had gradually moved from the distant paddy fields of Wariyapola into a hospital bed in Colombo.

The first 17 years of her life were spent like any other farmer's daughter . The open air, the paddy fields and school were her life. The O/L's done, she was enjoying the break when a numb finger and then stiffness in the neck indicated that all was not well. A doctor in Kurunegala was consulted but things kept getting worse. Heaviness in the legs turned to the right leg moving slower than the other. After consulting doctors in Colombo it was decided that a MRI scan was required. This was in 1996. At this time she had been able to walk to the hospital.

Today, three years later, paralysed from the waist down she waits for her turn for a scan. (Dr. Samarasinghe indicated that she will be provided with the free scan for this week). If her parents had been able to muster the money needed for the scan could her condition have been avoided?

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