As the date for my visit to the DEAN Foundation was confirmed, I was a little apprehensive. I did not know what Palliative care or Hospice was and felt I was stepping into the unknown.

DEAN Foundation is a one-storied building located in Kilpauk. The clinic is on the ground floor and the office on the first floor. As I walked in Bharati, the Manager of the Foundation greeted me.

Bharati shares a very deep bond with the Foundation. She says, “My dad was diagnosed with cancer. Doctors told us that he could not be cured and was summarily discharged from the hospital. We had heard about DEAN through the hospital. We approached the Foundation to help us. My dad was given painkillers, which helped him, sleep better and allowed him to speak with us. Deepa ma’am was always available to support and talk to us. I was so touched by unstinting service that I decided to join the Foundation.”

“Unconditional love can make dying a transformative, peaceful experience. In palliative care units, it is not uncommon to find patients requesting euthanasia. When you look for the reason behind the request, most times it is because the patient cannot bear the pain. Once this problem is tackled, most of them get back to the business of living and the wish to die, ends.” explains Deepa.

Palliative care is a vital component of an effective and functioning health system, ensuring quality end-of-life, ensuring productivity of people living with life-limiting conditions and their families. Hospice services are characterized by a team-oriented approach that includes expert pain and symptom management, along with emotional and spiritual support tailored to the patients’ wishes. With a passion to know more about Hospice and Palliative care, Deepa went to London to meet the pioneer of the Modern Hospice Movement, Dame Cecily Saunders and spent over a week in St. Christopher’s Hospice learning about managing a hospice service. She also traveled to three other Hospices in Viennato to gain more insights.

Like any other organization, Deepa had a challenge on her hands in putting together resources namely money, staff, and volunteers. Her husband was her backbone. He contributed part of his salary for the functioning of the Foundation. Another challenge was getting morphine tablets. When she applied for the license to the Collector’s office, they sent a team to visit. The concept of homecare was alien to the officials. Deepa took one of the officers on a home care visit. The lady was so touched by what she witnessed, that the license was given immediately. “Nothing came easy. Building DEAN Foundation was a roller coaster ride!” adds Deepa.

Her patients loved her so much. One of them donated his old Fiat car to the Trust when he learnt that she was travelling by auto rickshaw. Deepa wanted no one, even people from remotest villages to die of suffering and pain. She realized the best way of achieving this was to join hands with the Government’s health care system. She sensitized heads of government in the need for Hospice and Palliative care services. In December 2009, Dean Foundation set up the first Rural Outreach Palliative Project in a Government Primary Health Centre in the District of Kancheepuram, Tamil Nadu. DEAN was the first NGO to be offered space in the Public Health Corporation and it was the first palliative care project in the public health system. She further convinced the government to allow her to travel throughout Tamil Nadu, and help set up designated Palliative Care units in all Government Teaching College Hospitals.

Deepa was conferred the Elizbeth Kubler Ross Award in 2003 by the Children’s Hospice International, Virginia, USA. N. Chandrasekhar wrote her story in his book “Incredible Champions” and slowly, the recognition began. In May 2013 after evaluating the successful execution of Hospice and Palliative Care services of Dean Foundation in Kancheepuram, the Government of Tamil Nadu announced their decision to set up Palliative care centers in all districts of the State. This brought great satisfaction to Deepa who now knew that slowly, relief of pain and suffering to the needy was becoming a reality.

Deepa is, indeed, a woman of substance serving to relieve suffering and pain and bring in its stead hope, comfort and love!

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