COIMBATORE, India — This isn’t an ordinary story. But then again, Poovili R, who works with Ford Credit Operations in Coimbatore, isn’t an ordinary person.
Her colleagues describe the 22-year-old as courageous, awe-inspiring, exemplary, passionate and empathetic.
And here’s why:
For most of us, an 18th birthday is a day of celebration – a day spent rejoicing with family, at a party with friends, or even traveling abroad. For Poovili, her 18th birthday four years ago was the day she pledged to donate all her organs.
It was a brave and unusual move for a woman just stepping into adulthood in India, which has one of the poorest organ donation rates in the world. Compared with an average of 26 organ donors per million population in the developed world, India has just 0.16 donors per million. Ignorance, a lack of awareness, and socio-cultural taboos and superstitions keep organ donations from taking off – and as a result, thousands perish every year awaiting suitable donors.
For those who know Poovili, her decision wasn’t surprising. All her life, she has been passionate about social work and serving the community. As a long-standing tradition, her family celebrates all birthdays, anniversaries and festive holidays by lending a helping hand to a nearby school, orphanage, or old-age home. “And what better way to give the gift of life to another when I’m no longer around?” she asks.
Her father, S.Rajagopal, an ex-serviceman who works as the chief security officer for the Government Hospital, Coimbatore, has been her biggest inspiration.
“From a very early age, my father taught us about the importance of helping others. That is how our family used to bond. Together, we volunteered at local institutions. This is just what we did,” Poovili said.
One day, at the Government Hospital, Poovili’s father met Raja Sethu Murali, who runs an NGO called “Piraruku Udhvum” (“Helping Others”).
During the course of their conversation, Raja spoke about Whole Body Donation, the act of giving away one's body after death for organ donation, research and medical education.
That very evening, Poovili’s father got the family together to explore the possibility of Whole Body Donation.
“Although I had made up my mind about donating my vital organs, I was aching to do more. I was toying with the idea of Body Donation for a long while, but I was hesitant to broach this topic with my parents. Simply because, after my death, there will be no body at the funeral, and this is a tough decision for any parent to support,” said Poovili.
“I couldn’t believe my ears when I realized my own father was actually trying to convince us to donate our bodies,” she continued. Her entire family was instantly supportive of this decision. The very next day, they began the paperwork for legal and medical consent.
The family’s decision didn’t go unrecognized. The week before Organ Donation Day, which India celebrated on August 6, they received a letter from the Dean of the Government Hospital thanking them for their noble gesture, and expressing appreciation for their commitment to supporting medical education and scientific research.
Poovili's story was also covered in a regional daily newspaper.
Poovili dreams of a fulfilling and normal life. And, like many women her age, she’s given a good deal of thought to whom she’d like to share it with: The first characteristic she looks for in a man is that he not only accepts, but embraces the fact that she has donated her body for organ harvest and medical research.
Asked why she made this choice, Poovili responded philosophically: “The mythical bird - Phoenix - represents the circle of life. It is believed that at the end of its life, the phoenix burns and is reduced to ashes, from which a new phoenix emerges. I believe that human life is something similar - we continue to serve the society even after one’s death.”
“Poovili’s story is one of strength and courage. Her selflessness inspires us to be better, do better and live better. She has truly embraced the spirit of ‘Go Further’ in her personal life,” said Gayathri R, General Manager, Ford Credit Operations.
Poovili with her family.