Karapitiya a beacon for intensive paedriatric care

By Leon Berenger

It all began during the tsunami some six years ago at the Karapitiya Teaching Hospital in Galle.
Consultant Paediatrician Pushpa Punchihewa was desperately trying to save a 16-year-old boy who had been hit by the wall of water and had difficulty in breathing.

A mother with her child undergoing treatment

To make matters worse, the hospital had no Paediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU), while the adult ICU was full with tsunami victims. In desperation, Dr. Punchihewa reached out to the Neonatal ICU to treat the boy, and after some 24 hours was able to find a bed at the hospital’s main ICU.

“It was a tricky situation at the Neonatal ICU, since the patients here are less than one-month-old and only cots are available. So this boy had to be treated on a table, and, at the end of the day, a life was saved.

“It was this incident that inspired me to work towards creating a PICU at the hospital. For six years I tried in vain to convince the authorities towards this end. Even before the tsunami, I had all along approached several governments of the day, but no one was willing to listen or help out,” Dr. Punchihewa lamented.
And then it happened at a funeral gathering in Hikkaduwa, where philanthropist Nissanka Epaliyana was attending along with several doctors. It was here that a surgeon-friend of Mr. Epaliyana had stressed the urgent need for a PICU at the Karapitiya Hospital.

By then Mr. Epaliyana had been earlier involved in various projects to improve facilities at the hospital and other places in Galle, with funds channeled from the Lions Clubs in Germany. And so work began on building such a facility, which was commissioned in 2008 at an estimated cost of Rs. 90 million.

Today, the facility holds four beds with the all the necessary equipment, and since it’s opening, there have been 354 admissions to date. But more work has to be done towards improving the place, with moves currently under way to install nine more beds on the upper floor for less serious patients, and the principal foreign donor - Medical High School in Hanover, Germany, currently considering the matter, says Mr. Epaliyana.

“We even look into the wellbeing of mothers who come from outstations and stay on for long periods. Towards this end, there is a live-in quarters equipped with the basic facilities for mothers. Mothers are allowed to remain alongside their children inside the PICU, since most of the patients here are in life-threatening conditions,” she said.

“Another plus at the PICU is that, it has a tele-medicine link up with the Medical High School in Hanover, from where urgent advice is sought on complicated medical conditions. This facility is available on a 24-hour basis and is extremely helpful,” she said adding that specialists from the school in Hanover visit the hospital Karapitiya, and provide advice and encouragement to the local staff.

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