Youth dies as hair transplant goes badly awry

One would hardly expect a hair transplant to have fatal consequences, but that is what happened to Santosh Kumar, a final year MBBS student at the Madras Medical College. A simple hair transplant went badly wrong, leading to his death

''For us, everything has been a struggle. He was our only child and we wanted him to be happy,'' sobbed his mother Josephine.

Though Santosh died on 17 May, the story only came to light following a report in The Times of India. His parents Josephine and Pandiaraj want justice for a son born 12 years after their marriage.

Santosh went for transplant surgery at the Advanced Robotic Hair Transplant Centre in Nungambakkam, a salon which has a license only for hair cutting and styling. But clearly, they were conducting procedures that were almost minor surgeries without requisite clearance.

The cost?  Rs1,20,000 to Rs1,50,000.

The centre has now been sealed by the authorities. The transplant was done by Dr Hariprasad Kasturi, an anaesthetist, and Dr A Vineeth Suryakumar, a doctor who got his MBBS degree from a college in China.

Santosh had grade 2 baldness, a condition which causes hair loss from the front of the head. He had opted for Follicular Unit Extraction (FUE), a technique in which follicular units are removed directly from the donor area. The grafts are then transplanted into the bald areas.

It is performed under local anaesthesia and the procedure needs to be performed by a surgeon as it is considered a minor surgical procedure.

Dr Vineeth Kumar, the doctor at the Centre who performed the procedure, was not a surgeon equipped with either a dermatology or plastic surgery degree – a necessary qualification in the field.

Moreover, Dr Hariprasad Kasturi, the anaesthetist, was not present throughout the procedure after administering anaesthesia – another basic requirement.

Santosh's friend Jayapraveen said that he had not been planning an immediate transplant and simply wanted to consult various centres. But the ARHT Centre told Santosh that if he paid the advance he would get a 50-per cent discount. So he agreed, and his mother accompanied him for the procedure.

Gradually, Santosh showed signs of discomfort as the follicles were being replanted and was taken to the clinic where the anaesthetist worked. Drowsiness and a fever persisted, but the doctor assured him that nothing was wrong and this wasn't unusual.

 He was then taken to Guest Hospital in Kilpauk and given a paracetamol injection. But Rs10,000 a night for admission? He couldn't afford it.

As he left for his home town Arni in Thiruvannamalai, it only got worse – fever, diarrhoea and vomiting. The next day his family admitted him to CMC Vellore, where he was shifted to the ICU.

On the way, his fingers started turning blue. His kidneys failed and he was recommended dialysis. The next day, he had multiple organ failure.

And finally, he succumbed to a cardiac arrest on 17 May. Santosh had organ failure due to delayed anaphylaxis, an allergic reaction which can be triggered by anaesthesia.

Callous cops
Initially, the family did not want to file a police complaint because they wanted a peaceful cremation. But three days after his death, Santosh's friends convinced the family to file a police complaint – only to be turned down by the police due to lack of evidence.

''We then approached the Directorate of Medical Services on 30 May and thankfully, they listened to us,'' Jayapraveen said.

The directorate took action and Santosh's friends were relieved to see that the transplant centre had been sealed on their orders. The day after, the police finally agreed to file a complaint.

The negligence of an unqualified doctor cost his son's life, rues Santosh's father Pandiaraj.

''I want strict action against the person who conducted the surgery and who administered the anaesthesia, Hariprasad. I want all other centres like this shut, so nothing else happens with another person. These men are solely responsible for my son's death,'' he said.

Senthil, President of the Directorate of Medical Services, said, ''It depends on the level of their fault. We cannot say anything now. We need to know exactly what happened. Three things matter: the set-up of the place, what exactly happened and exact qualification of the people who carried out the surgery.''