ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday February 24, 2008
Vol. 42 - No 39


What does the future hold for this young medical undergraduate who now lies at the NSICU of the National Hospital?

Kumudini Hettiarachchi reports

The examinations were over. It was a break from the tedious studying, exams, hospital-visits cycle. Groups of four got together, boarded the Colombo Medical Faculty’s bus and headed for the BMICH to see for themselves how and where they should be putting up their stalls for the medical exhibition that was scheduled to be held in March.

At the BMICH the different groups of medical students went their different ways. Just about finished, around three in the afternoon, the group close to the Sirimavo Bandaranaike Centre were about to return to the bus, when the rain came down. Looking around, the three girls and one boy ran into a tent put up for a recent exhibition. The tent was a huge one inside which were parked about 50-60 cars. On looking up, one had seen to her horror, the tent along with the heavy iron poles, holding it up, coming down. Letting out a cry she had run out followed by Govinnage Dona Samitha Samanmalee.

The first girl made it out. Samitha caught the full force of the blows from the crashing iron poles on her head and spine, sending her sprawling face up, with a pool of blood surrounding her. The other two, a girl and a boy, were inside, also down on the ground with the canvas of the tent on top of them along with some poles.

“We were injured too, but not as severely as Samitha, most probably because the cars broke the impact of the tent which was coming down,” says one of the two, declining to be named.

On the bus, awaiting her best friend Samitha, was Tekla Nadeeshani who had gone to the main building of the BMICH. After their reconnaissance of the area for their allotted work, they were planning to meet at the BMICH but the rain intervened. Having spoken to Samitha, just five minutes before on the mobile, Tekla had asked her to come back to the bus.

“We were to go to a temple in Kolonnawa because a monk there gives us a scholarship – to tell him how we had fared,” says Tekla close to tears. This is what they did after every examination, since they entered medical school.

But Friday, February 15, changed Samitha’s life forever. For, while Tekla was awaiting her friend, Samitha was being rushed to the Accident Service of the Colombo National Hospital by a concerned couple in their vehicle.

The bright, beautiful, fun-loving and also funny Samitha, who would go out of her way to help anyone around her, would not walk again for her spinal injury has caused paralysis below chest level. The Sunday Times understands that Samitha’s spinal cord had divided in two and that as neurological tissue does not regenerate, hopes of repair are dim. (See box for medical opinion)

Fractured skull and damaged spinal cord

Samitha was brought to the Accident Service with a fractured skull and damaged spinal cord, says Dr. Anil Jasinghe, Director of the Accident Service.

On Tuesday, successful surgery was performed to help get her mobilized on a wheelchair while a long-term rehabilitation plan will also be implemented, he said.

The medical team which performed the operation to stabilize her spine consisted of Consultant Neurosurgeons Dr. Sunil Perera and Dr. Himashi Kularatne, Consultant Orthopaedic Surgeons Dr. Narendra Pinto and Dr. G.L. Punchihewa and Dr. (Mrs.) Rohini Ranwala, Consultant Anaesthetist.

Another close friend of Samitha’s, who has just finished her third year in medical school, Prarthana Sammani, hardly able to control her emotions, says it is difficult to imagine her walking again.

Samitha’s devastated family comprises her mother, who herself has undergone a major operation and is ill and her one and only elder sister who is a teacher. Samitha’s father had died of a heart attack, when she was a little girl in Grade 5, attending Makuluduwa Kanishta Vidyalaya in the Piliyandala area.

Determination had always been Samitha’s strong point. She passed the Grade 5 scholarship examination and entered Gothami Balika Vidyalaya in Colombo in pursuit of her dream of becoming a doctor. Adamant that she wanted to get into medical school, even when she was selected for bio-science the first two times she sat the Advanced Level, the third time saw part of her dream coming true.

“Three As she got that time,” says sister Tharanga Deepika, 32, a mother of two little ones. Sobs wracking her body, the hopelessness of Samitha’s condition, is too much for her to take. “Although there is a large gap between us, we are very close,” says Tharanga, adding that the tiny family of mother and two sisters have lived together.

Though Samitha was in the hostel, she would come home during the weekend and loved to cuddle and play with her sister’s new baby, who is just three months old. As not only close friends but also other batchmates keep vigil at the Neuro Surgical Intensive Care Unit (NSICU) or frantically search the internet to find even a pinpoint of hope of a cure and her sister leaves her little ones behind to rush to her bedside during visiting hours, smiling Samitha keeps repeating the question: “I will walk won’t I?”

What hopes, what plans, what dreams, shattered in the blink of an eyelid…….what cruel twist and turn of fate has left this once athletic girl, just 25, who played netball, ran races and swam, a paraplegic. Outside the doors of the NSICU, there are whispers and sombre faces. The air of hopelessness and despair is tangible.

Prarthana cannot think straight……..“The whole thing has left me blank,” she says while through her tears, Samitha’s sister Tharanga has only one plea: “Mata udav karanna nangiva negittanna…….Please, please help me to get my sister up.”

The ‘Student Rehabilitation Fund’ has been set up by the Colombo Medical Faculty, seeking to help Samitha in the rehabilitation process that she will face.

“Please help swell the fund,” is the earnest appeal of the medicos. Kind donors are requested to channel their support to Account No. 7620252 at the Bank of Ceylon, Regent Street branch. Donors may please contact Aravinda Kamaladasa on 0773017183.

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