GURGAON, India, Feb. 1, 2008 -- As Mohammad Salim Khan gained consciousness, he found himself in an unfamiliar house with a stranger in front of him wearing a surgical mask and gloves.
"What's happened to me?" Khan (through an interpreter) said he asked the man, because he could not move his limbs.
"Your kidney has been removed," the man said.
"How will I live?" Khan asked, shocked at the information.
Khan, 33, said that he was taken to the three-story house where the illegal surgery took place by men who offered him construction work. Khan explained all of this while lying in a bed in the isolation ward of the Gurgaon Civil Hospital, located on the outskirts of Delhi.
His extreme story is similar to those of the two men in the beds on either side of him -- Shakil Ahmed, 28, and Naseem Mohammad, 25 -- the same men who were in the room with him when he woke up from his surgery.
Victims of organ theft recovering at Gurgaon Civil Hospital
For laborers like Khan, days often begin at a central gathering spot where men approach them with manual labor opportunities. And it was at one of these spots where all three victims were offered work for 150 rupees (about $4) a day. Then all three men -- on varying dates over the past two weeks -- were taken to a house and kept there at gunpoint for several days.
Surgical masks strewn about a lot near the house
Bizarre as the story sounds, the three men all said that at first they were not suspicious of what was happening.
For Mohammad, much of the experience -- aside from being held at gunpoint -- rang true to what he had been offered initially: free food and housing. And the lack of work for a few days seemed all right with him because he was told he would still be paid.
Mohammad Salim Khan, 33
Eventually, the three men said, they were each brought individually to the house with a hidden state-of-the-art operating room. Tests, likely to determine their blood type, were also administered.
The men said they were given shots that made them pass out and they woke up to excruciating pain and scars that wrapped around their thin waists.
After Khan awoke and was assured by the masked man that he was medically fine, he was told he would be killed if he ever spoke about the surgery.
"If you tell anyone that your kidney has been removed at this very place or if you tell anyone that your kidney has been removed at all, there is a man who is following you who will shoot you," Khan said he was told.
Shakil Ahmed, 28
When asked if he believed that a man was going to follow his every move for the rest of his life, Khan said, "If someone can forcibly take my kidney out of me, they could also kill me."
A few hours after Khan's conversation with the stranger, police raided the house-turned-operating-theater to find the three victims, along with two other men who were next in line for kidney removals. Khan said that before the police raid two servants helped him dress, warned him of the impending arrival and then fled the scene. Police also busted another nearby house where an American couple was staying.
The victims were brought to the hospital, where they underwent medical testing.
"The MRIs all say that the surgery has been done, the kidney has been removed and the way the surgery has been conducted and the precision of the surgery all point to the professionalism of the operating surgeon," said Dr. S.P. Bhanot, 33, a surgeon at Gurgaon Civil.
Police said that if they had not conducted the raid, then Joy and Susan Mathew of Hawthore, N.Y., would have been the beneficiaries of a scam in which unsuspecting victims -- mostly poor laborers from a region five hours northeast of the capital -- were promised jobs, then taken to a private house and forced at gunpoint to sell their kidneys.
The Americans traveled to India hoping to circumvent the long waiting list for a kidney transplant they faced in the United States.
Naseem Mohammad, 25
Although the three victims said they did not sell their kidney or know about the scam in advance, many of India's poor have willingly sold their kidneys -- generally receiving about 50,000 rupees, or $1,300 in exchange for the organ, according to police. Other victims, who said they received "hush" money only after waking up from the illegal surgery, received between $1,280 and $2,560, police said. Wealthy clients paid about $30,000 to receive the kidneys, police said.
Authorities say the mastermind behind the scam is Dr. Amit Kumar. Mumbai police have been chasing Kumar -- also known as Dr. Santosh Raut -- since 1993, when he allegedly ran an illegal kidney racket there, too. He has been arrested several times but has managed to continue his involvement in the illegal trade of organs, police said. More than 600 people are believed to have had their organs removed by the doctor who does not have a license to perform surgery.
Dr. Amit Kumar, aka Dr. Santosh Raut
On this most recent racket, Kumar allegedly worked with his brother, who is also wanted by authorities. A third doctor accused of being involved in the scam is under arrest and cooperating with authorities.
Five foreign tourists, including the two Americans, were found in what police described as a "luxury guest house" owned by the doctor Saturday awaiting kidneys. There was a waiting list of some 40 foreigners from at least five countries.
Thursday police arrested four people accused of being connected to the case, including a nurse who authorities say worked on the illegal surgeries.
Manjit Ahlawat, Gurgaon Joint Police Commissioner
But police still do not know the doctor's whereabouts, which is why they need the help of Americans, they said.
"We wanted to know how [Mathew] came in contact with this doctor, and what brought him here and how much money he was to pay for this purpose," Gurgaon Joint Police Commissioner Manjit Ahlawat said. "Maybe he thinks he may get into trouble if he answers those questions. That is not the reality. We are there to help him out and we just want to know the truth."