Dr. Saketh Guntupalli stood by a pallet of medical supplies headed for India before turning to a small group gathered before him. The boxes might look ordinary, but for millions of people struggling through an unfolding health care catastrophe thousands of miles away, they held “absolute gold,” he said.
The contents – alcohol wipes, gloves, face shields and personal protective equipment – will soon help some of the millions of people battling COVID-19 in India.
The supplies were hastily gathered through donations from staff and departments throughout UCHealth University of Colorado Hospital on the Anschutz Medical Campus, where Guntupalli, a gynecologic oncologist, practices. The hospital also donated supplies from its reserve stock built during the pandemic surges of 2020 and early 2021, said Chris Porres, manager of central supply in the operating rooms.
“We’re glad we could help and share some of what we’ve got,” Porres said.
A crisis close to home
The humanitarian effort is personal for Guntupalli. The supplies will head for Hyderabad, a city of nearly 7 million people in south-central India, where his cousin, Dr. Sriram Damaraju, is a neurosurgeon at a large hospital. Guntupalli said his cousin has completely dropped his specialty practice for the time being to pitch in and help overwhelmed health care workers stem the rising tide of sickened patients.
“There is nothing else going on there but caring for COVID-19 patients,” Guntupalli said. “The situation is quite bad.”
Grim numbers illustrate that point. Between April 22 and May 5, for example, the state of Telengana, which includes Hyderabad, reported some 102,000 new cases of COVID-19. The number of new cases and deaths nationwide has grown well over threefold in the past month.
“The main issue is that the number of patients has outstripped the ability of the health care system to keep up,” Guntupalli said. “Money is not the issue. The country needs supplies.” The donated materials from UCH, he added, will help to protect providers so they can continue to care for patients.
“We can’t have the health care force get sick,” he said. “The minute these supplies hit the ground, they will help people.”
Quick team effort yields success
Guntupalli was quick to credit others for driving the donation effort. He brought up the idea initially with Tom Gronow, chief operating officer for UCH. Gronow called on Shauna Sutton, associate operating room nurse manager. Sutton put out the call for supplies, spearheaded collection and worked with central supply to organize the materials for shipping in just a couple of days.
“Shauna’s work in gathering supplies and helping to raise money for this effort has been amazing,” Guntupalli said.
The quickly assembled supplies still need to be shipped. Sutton said people can make donations to help cover packing and shipping costs via a Go Fund Me page. The drive quickly reached its goal, and Guntupalli personally delivered two boxes of gowns and gloves to Denver International Airport Friday morning. Funding in hand, he expects more supplies to head for India next week.
In Hyderabad, they will be in the good hands of some of Guntupalli’s family members and other contacts he has on the ground. They will help to shepherd them through customs and into the hands of providers.
That’s a big consideration. India has been getting mountains of supplies, but the logistics of distributing them have been a challenge, Guntupalli said.
“They are getting so much, but there is a lack of manpower,” he said.
With the U.S. government alone expected to deliver some $100 million in medical supplies to India, the pallet of boxes Guntupalli stood before might seem vanishingly small. To Gronow, the hospital’s donation is one of many grains of sand that make up a mountain of compassion.
“I think it is always important to contribute to helping humankind when we have the chance and the connection to do so,” he said. “When Dr. Guntupalli reached out, we were able to spring into action to see what we could do to provide some aid––every little bit adds up and helps.”
Dr. Guntupalli has started a hashtag on Twitter: #staystrongindia.