Here’s to strong women
May we know them
May we be them
May we raise them
When I saw the first picture of Eman Ahmed, sent to me by her sister Shaimaa in October 2016, my reaction was – “Ya Allah, I need to help her.”
Eman weighed nearly 500*kg and has barely moved for the past 25 years of her life. And here was her sister literally moving heaven and earth, reaching out to doctors all over the world and pleading for help. The letter that reached my office was addressed to Dr Muffazal Lakdawala, International Fatness Surgeon.
I got in touch with Shaimaa and said I would take up Eman’s case and treat her in India. And from there on, we encountered the first of many logistical challenges. First off, Eman could not get a visa because she was not able to go to the visa office for her biometric scan. I reached out via Twitter to India’s Hon’ble External Affairs Minister, Sushma Swaraj. The minister, despite being in hospital herself, still replied and said she would help. I am most beholden to her. Eman’s visa came through.
The next challenge, or rather challenges, revolved around transportation. Eman had not even moved from one room to another in her own house. And she had to now travel over 2,700 miles. There are no direct flights from Alexandria to Mumbai. And there is no commercial airline or air ambulance that is designed to hold a passenger who weighs nearly 500* kg.
Thanks to the efforts of Air Egypt, a special cargo plane was equipped with medical apparatus to facilitate Eman’s journey. We needed to medically prepare Eman for the flight and my partner, Dr Aparna, spent two weeks in Alexandria prior to the flight by Eman’s side and then made the journey with her.
Even Saifee Hospital had to make special preparations to suit Eman’s unique requirements and I am grateful to the management of the hospital, the staff, the medical teams and the regulatory authorities, all of whom came through at a crucial time. At the start of our treatment, Eman suffered from a host of diseases – swelling all over the body, severe hypothyroidism, high uric acid levels , deranged kidney and liver functions , difficulty in breathing normally and a stroke which rendered her unable to speak coherently and find it difficult to swallow.
A challenge like this can never be met by any one person. I found people along the way who believed in me, in my mission and we collectively made it our mission.
There are so many to mention but what has been really incredible for me is the women who have rallied around Eman and myself with compassion and endless reserves of courage and strength. Priyanka, my wife has stood by me through it all. From the big challenge as she calls it, to all the early mornings / late nights when I came home completely exhausted and continue to spend a lot of time in Eman’s care. She tells me, “The best antidote for worry is work, and the best cure for weariness is helping someone who is even more tired. The irony of life is that he who serves always stands to benefit more than who he serves.” She helped my three-year-old son who wanted to play with his dad understand that Papa was treating Eman Didi as she was not feeling well.
Dr Aparna, who I have already mentioned earlier, has been a rock through all of this. What was initially planned as a two-day event turned out to be a 14-day exercise in a foreign country. Aparna had the skills and the presence of mind to manage a high-risk patient the world had its eyes on, without the comfort of an ICU and with minimal means at her disposal.
Eman’s sister Shaimaa who believed that her sister could be saved and never gave up hope, despite her attempt to reach out to most docs across the world coming to nought. She looked after Eman for so many years with a smile on her face. She left her 2-year-old behind in Alexandria to be by her sisters bedside in an alien country.
Dr Shehla Shaikh the silent endocrinologist the calming influence behind our Save Eman mission, Dr Sonal, Dr Swati , Dr Sharmila the anaesthetists , the reassuring force behind the curtain that gives me confidence that I shall pull Eman out comfortably when I operate . Dr Swati and her team of physios who are all now emotionally attached to Eman and will make sure she shall sit and talk some day . Carlyne and Neha my expert nutritionists who deserve credit for managing her intake to perfection and giving me a head start with her initial weight loss . Dr Mizelle & Dr Tanvi who watch Eman like a hawk through the day. The sisters Belinda , Shirley , Sunita and Jui with their team have looked after her care with immaculate precision and humaneness . The entire team of female helpers making sure she felt comfortable and in the process added some muscle themselves .
To Pinky and Sunaina Roshan and the countless young girls and women who contributed towards the Save Eman campaign: Respect.
I feel blessed to be surrounded by these superwomen in my life right from my office, OT and home.
There’s been a lot of media attention on this case. I am grateful that the media has shown so much empathy for a case that is without precedent. The communication team pointed out that a lot of reporting has been by women who have taken care to understand the intricacies of this case. I’d like to call out Malathy Iyer, Meenal Bhagel, Rupsa Chakraborty, Lata Mishra, Sanchita Sharma, Somita Pal, Vrushali Purandhare, Tabassum Barnagarwala, Jyoti Shelar, Sumitra and many more. Please pardon me if I have inadvertently missed mentioning anyone.
Today, on International Women’s Day, I’d like to thank all the women on Team Eman.
Right now the way things stand the dice is loaded heavily against us. Nobody this weight is alive. Nobody this weight has been operated and survived. This is not some effort at a world record, in medicine it never is. It’s worth it all when I see Eman smile.
I hope we succeed in our mission to save Eman, for people will then believe in dreams, people will believe in hope. The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams. If we can help Eman achieve her dreams, all of this will be worth it. Her dream to be able to sit up. To walk. To sing. To dance. To make friends. To laugh and smile with loved ones. To feel the sunshine on her face whenever she would like. To sit by the sea. To live her life as all of us do. To her, the smallest tasks that we all take for granted are a challenge.
Thanks for your prayers and your messages of support.
Chairman Institute of Minimal Access Surgical Sciences and Research Centre Saifee Hospital
Director Digestive Health Institute
Chief Minimal Access Oncology