Lepracentrum Nalgonda, Eingang
The entrance of the Leprosy Centre

I spent 18 hours in a high-speed train which took me from Madras to Hyderabad. Of course, travelling by airplane would have been quicker but the trip by train enabled us (me and my son Attyla, who accompanied me) to experience close contact with everyday-life in India.

At every stop, people carrying bulky luggage consisting of chickens, geese, goats and other domestic animals were thrusting their way into the train. It became more and more crowded. When we arrived in Hyderabad, the station was packed with people, some of them lying on the ground. Carrying our suitcases, we had to make our way to the exit carefully across the many bodies. At a heat of approximately 40 °C and feeling hungry and thirsty, we did not drink or eat out of fear of an infection  but looked for a bus service to Nalgonda. Our bus was totally overloaded but eventually the driver announced Nalgonda. As we tried to get off the bus, we were literally pushed out! We then had the choice between walking up the hill (carrying two suitcases) or hiring a rikshaw to take us to the leprosy centre. Since we were absolutely exhausted, we decided for the rikshaw despite the drivers being youngsters who had to use their complete  physical force. On our way to the leprosy centre I thought of  a “Symposium on Multidrug Therapy in Leprosy” in Würzburg in 1986, in which Padre Dr. Luigi Pezzoni, a tropical diseases specialist and the founder and director of the leprosy centre Nalgonda, had participated. I decided to pay a visit to this example of a leprosy centre. The nice medical doctor I had met in Würzburg had changed and was wearing a tropical suit and a long beard – but he greeted us in a very warm-hearted way.

We entered the hospital containing 200 beds; it was overcrowded with both in-patients and out-patients that came for their regular medical check-up; there was also a rehabilitation centre, a boarding-school for approximately 400 children and several hundreds houses which offered permanent accommodation for cured leprosy patients. It was only possible to build this centre thanks to the medical doctor Luigi Pezzoni and the charitable donations he collected. We visited the whole complex, helped with the wound care and also examined leprosy out-patients.

Nasendepression als erstes Zeichen der Lepra
First signs of depression on the nose

At the out-patient department:

A young woman arrived at the leprosy centre desperately carrying her little child; she told us that her nose had become smaller and smaller since the birth of her child. She was deeply shocked when she heard the diagnosis: multi-bacteria form of leprosy! Following an informative and counselling conversation, she gradually calmed down. We gave her medicine and she had every reason to feel confident about being cured!

A visit of the leprosy centre:

While walking with Dr. Luigi  through the newly-built streets of the leprosy centre  I met many of the patients residing there. A 30-year-old woman opened the door and invited us into the small room where she lived. Her leg had been amputated and she had been supplied with a prosthesis. The doctor told us, “I constantly carry out serial examinations among the population in Nalgonda and the area around. I go from door to door and examine the people. One day, I knocked on the door of her parents and asked if there were any signs of leprosy on the  family members. The parents denied this. I took my time and examined the whole family, the parents and two sons. Suddenly, I became aware of a faint crying. The parents told me that I had misheard the sound and that there was nobody apart from themselves and their two sons. When I explained to them that I would not leave before having examined the crying person, they admitted to having a daughter who was suffering from leprosy. “They had built a brick wall around her - had literally bricked her in – out of fear that their sons would not be able to marry since leprosy was a blemish to their family. They provided her with food and water through a hole in the wall. Luigi immediately had the wall torn down and took the frightened and shivering girl with him on his motorbike. Since that time she has been living in the leprosy centre. Unfortunately, the leg could not be saved.

It was shattering stories like this that evoked a great readiness to help among the citizens of Dinslaken. The money donated was used to build a street with two rows of houses, called “Dinslaken Street”.

Leprosy patients who had been outcast by their own families could find a new home here and at the same hope for a new and better life.  By building an ambulatory, the out-patients’ treatment was  separated from the in-patients’ treatment. Measures of rehabilitation were also financially supported by Dinslaken (see ‘parish work in Dinslaken’).

Besuch im Leprazentrum
Visit of a leprosy centre

The 17th Leprosy World Congress took place in Hyderabad in January/February 2008. Since Nalgonda was only a two hours’ drive from Hyderabad, I visited the leprosy centre together with eight leprologists from the former USSR. We had a very warm-hearted welcome by Padre Dr. Luigi Pezzoni, the staff and also the leprosy patients.

Compared to the patients’ situation 18 years ago, there have been considerable improvements. The patients are being cared for all around and looked after in a very affectionate way!

 

 

 

November 2011 – Mumbai, Indien

 

Vimala Dermatological Centre
Vimala Dermatological Centre
Kleiderkammer
Clothing store

 

For one month I lived in the hospital ‘Vimala Dermatological Centre’, which provided 80 beds for leprosy patients. It was an extremely work-intensive time: consulting hours for out-patients, continuous check-ups of in-patients, reconstruction operations of mutilated hands and feet

Every day I could watch the physiotherapeutic treatments patients received for their stiff and paralysed fingers and were able to move them afterwards. I also saw several crying patients who suffered from severe pain caused by leprosy reactions. Their bodies were covered by spots and ulcers. I was deeply touched by their suffering, especially since I could not help them apart from giving them pain-relieving medicine.

Treatment and care of patients as well as the organisation tasks lie in the hands of the Italian sisters of the ‘Congregation of the Immaculate Order’.

The hospital is also financially supported by the German Leprosy and Tuberculosis Relief Assosiacion (DAHW), which is based in Würzburg.

 

Bombay Leprosy Project

Bombay Leprosy Project
Bombay Leprosy Project
Armenviertel
Slum areas

My son Attyla’s idea: Sun against osteoporosis, communicating in English and all of that in a leprosy hospital, the Vimala Dermatological Hospital, and the possibility to work on the Bombay Leprosy Project – this combination seemed to be the perfect solution for me!

I went to the airport in Dusseldorf on 6 November 2011, accompanied by Atti and Ewa. We enjoyed these last hours together having breakfast and my plane to Istanbul took off at 11.35 a.m.  After the usual waiting time, I travelled to Bombay. I beautiful lady in a brick-red sari was waiting for me. She approached me very silently and whispered, ‘Romana?’ I nodded and she took my hand and led me to a car. On the 20-minute journey to the hospital she introduced herself: Sister Cäcilia from Vimala Hospital. I immediately recognized Vimala from my last visit with Attyla 21 years before…. I had the first room in the guest quarter, furnished with three beds, a big wardrobe smelling strongly of disinfectant,  In the corner there was a table on which I could put all my belongings such as medicine, a pile of handkerchiefs and many other items.

One of the beds was equipped with a mosquito net, unfortunately it was the bed next to the wardrobe. I looked for a supplementary pillow and carefully opened the wardrobe. The overpowering smell of desinfecant  was unbearable! Ventilation – consisting of two ceiling fans – made it possible to stay inside my room for some minutes. Sister Bertilla, the superior of the order, was already waiting in the chapel, so I hurried to celebrate the holy mass with her. Afterwards, she told me, ‘Tomorrow, we will have our holy mass in Paris’ ‘This is impossible’, I thought to myself. ‘I arrived from Germany today and tomorrow morning we are supposed to be in Paris? ‘  I carefully asked, ‘But isn’t it very far from here?’ – ‘No, it is not’. ‘Do we have a non-stop flight?’ – ‘Flight?’, she answered and seemed quite surprised. ‘Our parish church is two streets from here!’  I was relieved that we were talking about the parish church and not Paris in France.

The next morning at 6.15 a.m.,a small mini-van stopped in front of the entrance to my room. The sisters were already inside and I climbed into the vehicle- which proved to be rather difficult as there was a very high gap. After a four-minute drive we arrived at the parish church. There was a large sanctuary next to a large space and benches for the parish at the back. The sanctuary was located very high, in the middle a statue of the Mother of God, everything shone like gold. I hardly understood the priests’ prayers during the mass since the people at the back of the church were singing so loudly, they were almost shouting. There clearly were some ‘solo singers’ amongst the parishioners. This was far from a normal prayer!

The small mini-bus took us back to Vimala Hospital. We took all the meals – breakfast, lunch and dinner – together in the convent.