Ramjit Harripersad

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After leaving the country for life-saving heart surgery last month, a retired police corporal is pleading with the government to allow him to return home for Christmas.

While closed borders affected vacationers and businesses, it almost cost Ramjit Harripersad his life. After inserting a stent in his heart in November 2019, Harripersad, 65, planned to visit the Palm Beach Gardens Medical Centre in Florida, in the USA last March for a checkup.

In March, COVID-19 made its way to T&T, leading the government to shut borders to contain the spread.

Hoping for some relaxation of the virus and the public health measures, Harripersad waited.

On October 9, he suffered debilitating chest pains, forcing relatives to rush him to the San Fernando General Hospital where doctors required an angiogram. But with the hospital lacking resources, a doctor advised him to pay for an angiogram as it would take months before an appointment. Two days later, Harripersad did an angiogram at Surgimed Clinic in San Fernando, which revealed that he had a 99 per cent blockage in his right coronary artery.

While there are cardiac surgeons locally, Harripersad’s buildup was calcified, meaning that it required special equipment to remove. Confined to bed rest and afflicted with constant pains, Harripersad waited for help as a heart attack could happen at any time.

Consultant General and Interventional Cardiologist Dr Amrit Bajrangee tried to source a medical facility with the equipment, but there was none locally. The only option was to travel abroad.

“I had to leave because they could not do the procedure home. I wanted to do it home, but Dr Bajrangee said it was $100,000 to do it home, but they did not have the equipment to do it. He even checked with West Shore and St Clair medical to do it but nowhere had the equipment.

“There was a 99 per cent blockage in my artery, so I had to go. I could have gotten a massive heart attack, and that is more or less what would have happened. I had to be on a bed at all times before the procedure because I was getting pains and could not do anything,” Harripersad said.

His daughter Kareshma Dookharan told Guardian Media that she applied for a travel exemption on October 16 and the Ministry of National Security approved two hours later. Attached to the request was a letter from Bajrangee asking that Harripersad and Dookharan leave Trinidad for urgent medical treatment.

Bajrangee explained that Harripersad required a stent with equipment that was not available in any public or private medical facility in the country.

After arriving in Florida on November 10, Harripersad underwent surgery three days later. He said that on waking, he immediately felt relief.

It is now three weeks since the surgery, and a request to the Ministry of National Security to return home remains unanswered.

During recent media conferences, the government stated that most of the people seeking exemptions to enter the country were those who left for seasonal work or who usually visit T&T for the Christmas season. However, Dookharan said they only left the country for life-saving surgery, and her father needs to see his doctor, who is in Trinidad.

“The procedure was successfully performed within days of our arrival in West Palm Beach, Florida, and he is now fit to travel again. We are hoping that we can rejoin our family in Trinidad before Christmas and are pleading for your assistance in permitting us to return. We would not have left the country unless it was absolutely necessary and our reason was a matter of life or death,” Dookharan wrote to the Ministry.