Meera was always interested in medical science and community service. She was so passionate about it that even at the age of 16, she attended a medical camp in Ranchi, far from her home in Mumbai. She would regularly participate in blood donation drives and was determined to continue studies so she could one day complete her MBBS.
Unfortunately, life had a different plan for her. When she was only 18, she lost her father to illness. With the heavy responsibility of running the household and paying off debts, Meera had to quit school after 12 standard to start working immediately. She found a job in accounting at a small firm. As the years went by, Meera rose up the ranks and ended up working in many large companies in the field of biotechnology and exports, finally resigning as an Accounts Head. But this is only half of Meera’s achievements.
At 56, she is today one of the most well-known personalities in the field of organ donation in India, being a recipient of the President’s medal for meritorious services awarded in the 50th year of India’s independence. But how did this come about? “Even though I never got the chance to study medicine, the events came about in such a way that an opportunity to work in the medical field came into my life,” says Meera.
In 2000, a very close family friend, Rajiv Kshirsagar, underwent a bypass surgery and a kidney transplant in the same year. “He was working for a company which was helping out with medical insurance. He also had family who was willing to help out. His thoughts immediately went to those people who do not have such support and facilities.” Around the same time, Meera also saw a sad news story about organ donation and how someone has lost their lives due to lack of donations. “It was the Late Rajiv Kshirsagar’s idea to create a trust that would help such people out,” says Meera. And so, on 23 March 2001, the Sneh Bandhan Trust came into existence, with Sunil Gokhale, Vandana Kshirsagar, Sugandha Gokhale, Raju Ambekar, and later on, Sushama Bajpai joining in.
“Awareness is the biggest need when it comes to organ donation. We need to clear the myths and misconceptions,” explains Meera. “Many people believe that if you donate your eyes in this lifetime then you will be born blind in the next or if you donate a kidney then you’ll be born without one in the next.” In order to dispel such myths and counsel families of donors and receivers, Meera trained to become transplant coordinator, specializing in eye, skin organ and body donations. “The argument people always have is that if you donate your organs, aapko moksh nahi milta (the soul doesn’t rest in peace). But I always remind them, god forbid, if anything happens to them or their family tomorrow, will they be thinking about the person who donated to them?”
Along with personal counselling of family members, Meera also conducts lectures about organ donation. “The key is to keep the language simple and give a basic understanding. I try not to get too technical in these sessions as learning about the nitigrities of how the transplant takes place, etc. really is not required for lay people. In fact, in some cases, it may even put them off. So we have to be very careful,” she says. Meera has lectured on this subject for a wide range of audiences, starting with 13 year old children to senior citizens. After the lecture, pledge forms and brochures are distributed along with donor cards. “The next step is a sensitive one because once someone has pledged their organs they have to inform their families. In the end, the family has to give consent.” Although she is not attached to any hospitals, she is well known among the coordinators for the way in which she is able to counsel patients and families, and is often called upon to do so.
One of the biggest organ donation drives that Meera and the trustees have conducted on behalf of Sneh Bandhan Trust was with the BEST Bus depots in Mumbai. The drive went on for two months and covered all of the 26 depots with participation from engineering and administration departments as well as drivers and conductors. She also conducted drives at SIES college, IIT Bombay, Wockhardt Hospital (Mira Road, Mumbai), Bharat Petroleum Refinery (Mumbai), Godfrey Phillips, to name a few.
Apart from organ donation, Sneh Bandhan Trust is also involved in the field of education. Specifically, we have adopted two schools in Shahapur, Maharashtra, where they have provided tube lights, fans, green boards, white board, e-learning kits, projector, water filters, books, playing and sports equipment as well as scholarships for 11th and 12th. Currently there are 350 students from nearby villages studying there. Apart from this, they have adopted an orphanage near Panvel. “I had gone there for a lecture on organ donation for the staff and I liked the way that it was being run. I decided to get involved with them beyond organ donation.” Their main requirement was drinking water facilities. The Trust managed to raise Rs 60,000 for them and donate large capacity water filters at the school and hostel. Meera also counselled the young girls there about menstrual hygiene and disposal.
During the pandemic, most of the organ donation work has taken a pause, but Meera sees this period as an opportunity to raise awareness and funds for the cause. She is grateful to have a family that has supported her through her social work journey and have also given their own participation. “My father was a very kind and generous man. He helped a lot of people with education, marriages or any other difficulty. I am very happy that I am carrying on his legacy,” says Meera.
Meera’s story shows us that there are many ways in which we can approach our dreams, no matter how long they take. We at Giving Circle take inspiration from the way Meera turned her lifelong dream into a community service and encourage readers to do the same.