Dr. Mary Varghese (1925–1986), popularly known as the ‘Wheelchair Surgeon’ as she was a paraplegic surgeon – founded CMC Vellore’s Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation (PMR), and established the Rehabilitation Institute.
The institute was the first specialist centre in India for people with spinal cord injuries and other physical disabilities. Since then, the institute has been renamed the Mary Varghese Institute of Rehabilitaiton.
Patients are cared for by multi-disciplinary professional teams including physiatrists, physiotherapists, occupational therapists, speech therapists, psychologists, prosthetists and orthotists, engineers, nurses and social workers.
They work together to help the patients achieve their full potential.
Padmashri Dr. Mary Varghese
Rehab Mela (mela means fair) is an annual get-together of rehabilitated patients of the Rehab Institute, who have suffered Spinal Cord Injury.
The Rehab Mela was an innovative strategy for the follow-up of patients with spinal cord injury, conceptualised by the team at the Rehab Institute in the early 90s.
The Mela provides an opportunity for persons with spinal cord injury and their care-givers to gather, interact and share their experiences, get comprehensive medical checkup, discuss relevant socio-economic issues and demonstrate their talents and achievements.
The Mela has helped to create bonds, renew friendship and ensure constant linkages for the rest of the year. The event has also brought to the fore community leaders who play a major role in networking with persons with spinal injury in their respective areas.
The Mela has also helped several persons discover more independent ways of managing themselves. Quite a few of them play an increasingly active role in the organization of the Rehab Mela.
The three-day event held on the third Friday, Saturday and Sunday of February every year, at the premises of the Mary Varghese Trust for Physically Handicapped, has become increasingly popular since it was first organised in 1994, when 45 patients participated.
This year, around 200 patients – 400 including the care-givers – attended the Mela.
Bar diagram showing number of patients with Spinal Cord Injury who attended Rehab Mela from 1994 (Yr1) to 2020 (Yr27)
The Rehab Mela has been a successful role model for similar events in various locations. Such events regularly take place now in Gudiyatham, Tiruvannamalai, Vellore and Arni organized by rehabilitated persons with spinal cord injury in their respective regions, using local resources.
Following the model of the Rehab Mela, a one-day Mela for persons with acquired brain injury has also been organised by the Institute since 2003.