Thursday, July 25, 2013

Award-winning doctor has plenty of Pride in Peterborough

It was the perfect place to discover he had won our Pride in Peterborough lifetime achievement award - volunteering 5,000 miles away at the Indian village he is building for 1,000 orphan and needy children.
And the winner, Dr Koneru Prasad of Westwood Clinic and HEAL (Health and Education for All), only realised he had been given the much-deserved accolade when a surprise party was thrown in his honour, with garlands, flowers, and a cake.
The news had been passed via Facebook from Dr Prasad’s son in Peterborough to one of the children he rescued 20 years ago.
It was another highlight of a landmark year for the doctor who has spent more than 30 years looking after patients in Peterborough, once even selling the family home in India to kickstart his plan to build a charity in Asia.
Because later in 2013 the HEAL Paradise village, an education-focussed community scheme based on ecological principles will accept a new intake of 1,000 children from underprivileged backgrounds across India.
The village encompasses school buildings, housing for the children and their carers, health, sports and arts facilities, a care home for the elderly, an institute for the blind, and buildings for community use.
It is the next step on from the existing health centre, schools and children’s home, and children’s village,
These facilities were once just dreams themselves. But now they are the bases which took tiny tots from the poorest conditions imaginable 20 years ago, to the mature young professionals gaining fine results in their examinations this summer.
Dr Prasad said: “It is thrilling to see the very first batch of children from 20 years ago who now have degrees. They are now very able, good-looking people.
“The first child was two months old when we took her. Mamata is now a graduate in technology and will hopefully get a job this summer.
“I am also hoping that some of them will get a job with HEAL, so that the charity is self-sustaining.”
Next February Dr Prasad will be part of a team of 30 cycling 460km across India, along part of the route between Mumbai and Goa. Riders have signed up from Australia, USA, Germany and other parts of the globe.
This will be the fourth such journey after a trio of treks which racked up the incredible total of £220,000, but at the time of the last journey in 2012 the foundations of the village were in place, but little else.
The rides serve a dual purpose, as not only do they raise funds but also show the generous donors the project to which they have contributed – which often makes them put their hands in their pockets again.
Dr Prasad’s old medical school friend from the USA contributed the trifling sum of a million dollars, which paid for the pre-school.
He said: “He came with us on the bike ride in 2010 and is now very involved.
“The total cost of the project is £4.75 million and so far we have raised £1.6 million. We hope to raise the rest by the end of 2015.
“My belief is that once the donors actually see the buildings, the children living in their dormitories and people visiting, they want to give more.
“The donor’s brother, a doctor in Birmingham, gave £45,000, a GP in Ramsey has donated £15,000 while local Indian donors have put in £100,000.”
The mention of Birmingham harks back to when, once upon a time, Dr Prasad first arrived in Peterborough.
He had been training and working for the NHS in the Midlands, and it was almost too easy.
The facilities were too good. Prior to that he had volunteered in squalor and slums across Asia, in places where his work was vital as opposed to expected. There were no concerns about money and resources, and working in Stafford was almost cheating. Bretton was a reality check.
Dr Prasad said: “A guy I used to work with mentioned Peterborough so I decided to look in 1981. I arrived one afternoon and saw a rotting Portakabin which was called a health centre.
“The windows were boarded up, the glass was broken. I had seen better conditions in refugee camps in the Indian slums. I thought I could move here and do something worthwhile.
“The Telegraph helped me to get things changed actually.
“I went to see someone in the NHS to see if something could be done, and they said it would. I gave them a year and nothing happened. I spoke to a councillor I knew who said he had received similar treatment.
“But one Tuesday one of my senior partners was running one of the regular ante-natal classes, and a pregnant woman slipped down a ramp. She refused to complain but I asked for an anonymous note, which was taken to the Telegraph by the councillor.
“It was all over the front of the next edition, and they (NHS) soon did something then.
“I was given £2,000 to get the Portakabin removed and I worked with PCC to get this piece of land. Then I approached the bank and borrowed the money in my personal account for a centre, and it was built within a year.
“It was extended in 1993 and there are many new facilities, but it still feels like a new building because the local community has looked after it.”
Dr Prasad is retiring in 18 months but continues to continue his medical leanings. HEAL is opening bases in the US and Australia, but also much closer to home.
“We started here, and that’s why I want to do something in Peterborough. I am working with Peterborough City Council to secure some premises for a clinic, and it will have the theme of ‘Happiness for Health, Health for Happiness’.
“The emphasis will be on prevention and non pharmaceutical therapies. I never thought I would see so much diabetes and obesity, and related cardio-vascular illness, as I have seen here.
“That then increases the psychological problems because of the social deprivation.”
Despite his many travels and achievements, serving on various boards and committees in the upper reaches of Peterborough’s health structure, Dr Prasad’s office is fairly spartan.
There is a quotation from Nobel Prize winner Rabindranath Tagore, and a little memento from Sydney from former Peterborough mayor J E Hall.
Dr Prasad’s life is not based on luxuries, and shortly before I leave he tells me of his inspiration.
“When I was 10 there was a neighbour of mine who suffered from diabetes in southern India. In the end he became so seriously ill that his leg was removed.
“He was a farm worker who I would see regularly, and he would beg me to become a doctor, so I could help people like him. He was such a nice man, and I never forgot him.
“Peterborough has given me the enormous privilege of being a doctor. There is responsibility but also the satisfaction of making other people happy.”
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