Vidyawati was riding a two-wheeler in East Delhi when she felt a thread around her throat. Before the 61-year-old knew it, a sharp jab of pain and profuse bleeding immobilized her and she fell in a heap. Usha Rajan was crossing the road when an excruciating pain shot up her right heel, completely immobilizing her. Both women were victims of illegal Chinese kite-strings or maanjha, which cut through their tissues, muscles and key blood vessels. Both were saved in the nick of time by delicate repair surgeries lasting hours.
“Vidyawati had deep injuries in her throat akin to a slit throat. It was much like being garrotted with a piano wire. The incision was sharp and quick, slicing through her neck like a saw at great speed. Due to severe blood loss, she was critical and required immediate emergency life-saving surgery. Although passers-by were quick to bring her to the hospital, we had a very narrow window to save her. Plastic surgery was successfully performed with neurovascular and muscle repair followed by an anatomical closure of the neck. Vidyawati is still recovering physically but it will take a long time for her to recover psychologically,” said Dr Manoj K Johar, Senior Director and Head, Department of Plastic Surgery, Max Super Specialty Hospital, Patparganj.
“Normal kite string or maanjha is cotton thread. It breaks after a while but nylon fiber doesn’t break and instead cuts through muscles, nerves and key blood vessels that are connected to the brain. One of them is the carotid artery. Even the windpipe can get cut in such situations. So, the moment Vidyawati was brought in, the immediate priority was to keep her alive for a few hours to close the tissue tears and tie up the blood vessels. It was a team effort to first control the unnecessary bleeding. We clamped some veins, intubated her to make sure that blood supply to the brain was not affected while we began the reconnection procedure. We repaired the vessels in much the same manner that we do a heart bypass, then worked on other tissues and skin,” he added.
Vidyawati is recovering but is yet to come out of her trauma. “Her physical trauma will take two years to overcome as muscle healing takes time. She still cannot move her head and needs collar support so that tissues can heal. Meanwhile, she must ensure that her spine doesn’t stiffen up. Mentally, her confidence has been shaken. She is scared of venturing out on the road and the unplanned expense has certainly added to her anxiety,” said Dr. Johar.
Similarly, the 54-year-old Rajan was admitted to the hospital with an injury in the right leg due to a sharp manjha cut. The kite string got stuck in her leg, causing a complete transection of her tendons (muscles that connect the calf with the heel bone) causing severe bleeding. It is like your Achilles heel being ruptured. She also had to undergo hours of repair and reattachment surgery and was bed-ridden for three months before she got back some of her mobility. “A lot of time, such victims, as a result of this injury, being caught by surprise, also tend to suffer falls at high speeds or collisions with other vehicles due to loss of control, thereby not only endangering their own lives but that of others,” said Dr. Johar.
These cases of life-threatening injuries highlight the menace of “Chinese manjha” and its rampant illegal sale, despite a ban by the government. “After similar incidents were reported in 2016, the Government had issued a ban on the use of these products, but now its use has gone up again. We get three to four cases of kite-string slit injuries almost every month, especially among young girls who use a cycle or Scooty very often to travel and the injury is mostly on the cheeks and face, scarring them badly and denting their self-image ,” says Dr. Johar.
The use of nylon or single plastic fiber strings, composed of monofilament fishing lines coated with powdered glass instead of the traditional cotton thread, has turned kite flying, once a harmless sport, into a life threat. Cases go up during Makar Sankranti in January and in August, in the run-up to Independence Day.