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Nina Foundation holds out hope of rehabilitation, confidence and independence to people suffering from spinal injuries, says Dolly Mirchandani
In 1995, a passion for paragliding turned into a nightmare for Dr Ketna Mehta when an accident led to spinal cord injury (SCI), which generally leads to permanent disability.
SCI is caused by falls or spinal tumours, and invariably results in paraplegia (paralysis from the waist downwards) or quadriplegia (paralysis neck down, which affects arms and finger movements, and even breathing). Such an injury is a life-changing situation. It takes grit and determination to cope with the injury and live a life of independence and dignity.
Five years after her accident, and based on her own experience, Ketna decided to start Nina Foundation with her brother Dhaval Mehta in the memory of her sister Dr Nina Doshi, who had inspired Ketna during her own rehabilitation process. Ketna is today an editor and associate dean of research at the LN Welingkar Institute of Management Development & Research in Matunga (Mumbai). Established in 2001, Nina Foundation works with patients of SCI and their families to help them become self-reliant. The Foundation has a panel of doctors, counsellors, physiotherapists and social associates to offer medical advice and product/financial support to patients.
In India, over 15 lakh people suffer from SCI; they need support. The Foundation tries to reach out through One World–Voice of Paraplegics, a bi-monthly newsletter which provides information on various aspects of spinal injuries. Nina Foundation has also launched the first helpline (9769680820) for spinal injury and, in December 2008, it inaugurated a ‘Wellness Seminar’ series. The Foundation marks 25th June every year as the ‘Spinal Injury Awareness Day’ and has even come out with a film on the need for such awareness. Participating in the Mumbai Marathon is another way in which the Foundation increases public awareness and helps in raising funds for its cause. Among its other initiatives to encourage people to cope with spinal injuries is the RockStar Award, which is given annually to someone who has successfully overcome the devastation of a spinal injury. The Foundation has a support group to help people cope with their situation by sharing experiences; it also arranges fun outings for its members. It has around 250 members. Membership application forms can be downloaded from the Foundation website.
Nina Foundation campaigns for ‘disabled-friendly’ public spaces and for better job and career opportunities to help those with spinal injuries become financially independent. Ketna says, “The biggest challenge is creating awareness about spinal injury… and overcoming government apathy.” She wants the government to set up a health registry for data collection on the incidence of spinal injuries and to frame and implement policies for their rehabilitation. “The concept of rehabilitation is the differentiator for good quality of life. Even in Mumbai, there is no world-class spinal injury rehabilitation centre. We have no recourse but to direct cases, especially for those with quadriplegia, to the Indian Spinal Injuries Centre in New Delhi or the Christian Medical College in Vellore, Tamil Nadu,” she says.
The Foundation is on the lookout for volunteers, as its members need help for leading a normal life—from help to go up and down the stairs (wherever there are no elevators); write examination papers; in driving them to events; helping them with their wheelchairs in places that are not disabled-friendly; and in getting them to work outside their residences.
The Foundation reaches out to people suffering from spinal injuries, even if they are not members. Ketna says that many donations come from friends with spinal injuries who know how expensive care is for someone with spinal injury. The Welingkar Institute, where Ketna works, partners her in promoting awareness while Access 4All—a wheelchair accessibility van service—meets the Foundation’s transportation needs. Donations to Nina Foundation are tax-exempt under Section 80(G) of the Income-Tax Act.
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