Have you ever wondered why, despite all its roughness and doom, despite all its unfairness and gloom, and despite all its pain and suffering, this world is still a beautiful living place? What drives the world? What is keeping it bound despite all the looseness and shallowness we see around us every day? Is it the illusion of Bollywood and Hollywood stars whom the masses adore or the business tycoons everyone aspires to be like? Is it the aggression or the adventurism of the likes of Alexander and Hitlers? Or the high teaching morals and principles of people like Gandhi and Mandela?
They were heroes of their times, no doubt about that. But for me, the contributions and sacrifices of people whom we fail to recognise make the world beautiful and livable. People who don’t seem to have a face—the unsung heroes. Their selfless deeds and sacrifices as they walk through their life’s journey routinely and calmly have made life possible, even in circumstances where there was no hope.
Friends, today I am going to talk about one such hero from amongst us whose extremely courageous act is an exemplification of altruism and beneficence. Dr Amita Aggarwal W/o Dr Sandeep Aggarwal, as a gesture of kindness, respect and unselfish love for her family donated a part of her liver to save the life of her father-in-law, Mr S.K. Aggarwal.
But the story does not start here. The story begins years earlier with the fortitude and endurance of a loving son, Dr Sandeep, who pursued with wisdom to understand the nature of his father’s illness, and fought vigorously to find a suitable cure. The journey itself is a revelation of a kind, and the sacrificial support of his wife at the pinnacle of this long battle secured the prize.
Dr Sandeep was in his second year of college when his father was found to have cirrhotic changes in his liver (?NASH). Twenty-five years ago, the treatment options were limited, and any closeness to the word cirrhosis as a diagnosis was a devastating feeling. Even today, with all the advancement and improved understanding, the consequences of end-stage liver diseases loom with the uncertainty of outcome. The revelation of the diagnosis, a deadly disease clutching the life of Mr Aggarwal, had left the entire family gasping for breath.
Even Mr Aggarwal’s own psyche had received a severe depressive blow. His mental state trance dented into bodily form and augmented his disease. There was a fatal race of deterioration between their hope and the condition of his liver. The pressures in the hepatosplenic circulatory system had risen, and on one ominous day, the oesophagal varices gave way and led to a severe bout of bloody vomiting for which he was rushed to the emergency department. Endoscopic banding of the bleeding vessels was carried out to control the bleeding, along with medication like beta-blockers.
In those dismal days, driven by the love for his father and a sense of responsibility to take charge of the family ecosystem, young Sandeep clung to the very feeling that was soon disappearing; hope. He decided to pursue the cause of his father’s cirrhosis. Since Mr Aggarwal was a teetotaler, the obvious cause of cirrhosis—drinking, was definitely not the causative factor. Hepatitis B markers were negative. Hepatitis C was not one of the commonly talked about infections during those days of the early nineties, yet young Sandeep driven by wisdom and interest in the field decided to pursue it. His effort bore fruit and the Hepatitis C virus was indeed found to be the cause behind their misery. Treatment options were explored, anti-viral medications specific for Hep-C, though extremely expensive, were initiated, and life appeared to be coming back on track slowly but not before giving them another shock.
In all probability, because of Beta-blocker use, Mr Aggarwal developed a complete heart block. Beta-blocker were stopped and antiviral therapy specific to the Hepatitis C virus could be continued for the recommended duration, as per the current prevailing norms. Even the pacemaker insertion, a comparatively easy procedure, was not without complications for him, adding to the agony and sufferings of the diseased and the family members. For Dr Sandeep, it was a task at hand that needed to be done within the stipulated time, while being focussed and thoughtful, as if he was striving to be worthy of his own suffering.
“There is only one thing that I dread, not to be worthy of my own suffering.”
Mr Aggarwal was put on periodic blood investigations—liver function tests, AFP levels, and radiological scans. Life seemed to be returning back to normal. Young Sandeep was now Dr Sandeep and married to Dr Amita.
But as I had said in ‘Rage Against The Dying Of The Light‘,Destiny derives unknown pleasures from the peripeteia of events. Somewhere in late 2008, Mr Aggarwal’s AFP level started shooting up and his liver scans showed suspicious lesions. Hepatocellular carcinoma was taking form and waiting to infiltrate out. Mr Aggarwal was subjected to a fresh battery of tests. And a routine of hospital visits and consultations started again. Hope started dwindling, sinking into unknown depths of uncertainty. Sometimes I wonder what’s worse, the outcome of the disease or its ramifications plaguing normal routine, the so very mundane routine we despair yet long for in its absence.
The only curative option was a living-donor liver transplant, not without dangers, of course, especially considering the fact that Mr Aggarwal has the liver disease for quite some time, plus he had an artificial pacemaker within his heart. But, as always in such circumstances, the biggest challenge was finding a suitable, matching, and transplant fit donor.
And this was a situation where love proved its mettle.
These were terrible times for the family. Not only Dr Sandeep was feeling the pressure of saving the life of his father, but also he had to consider the dangers for his own family. He and his siblings were declared unfit donors, some on account of blood group mismatch and others because of fatty liver. The only other option was asking his wife Dr Amita to donate. I can truly understand how terribly perplexing his situation must have been. Finding a way to communicate, when even a normal dialogue could have been misinterpreted as a forceful suggestion, must have been a challenge. And when you extrapolate that with the feeling that any misadventure was bound to have a detrimental outcome for your children…. truly unimaginable perplexity.
But what nobody could have imagined was Dr Amita’s state of mind. No one can truly enter her shoes to feel her intriguing dilemma—a loving husband, a dying father-in-law, an adorable son and an infant daughter. Dr Amita was only one and a half months postpartum, having given birth to a beautiful baby girl in September 2008.
There is a beautiful saying;
‘The same boiling water that softens the potato hardens the egg’.
When one is put in a situation beyond the limits of normal existential norms that the true strength and integrity of a character shine. Some are remarkably stronger than the rest. Dr Amita’s sacrificial deed exemplified this. Not considering the future of her children and without fearing even for a minute for her own life, she readily agreed to endure a deliberate pain to her body. Mind you, her body was weak and still recovering from the weakness of pregnancy. But the true beauty of her deed wasn’t physical, it was her applauding ability to accept the challenge and be ready to sacrifice a part of her body, purely for altruistic motives.
The world is thriving because such noble souls exist and we are fortunate to share the same living sphere with them. We are blessed that Dr Amita and Dr Sandeep are a part of our fraternity. In this era of negativity, they are the epitome of hope and strength. We should make every effort to applaud such unsung heroes. Their story must come out and should serve as the source of inspirations for others.
As the author of a book which deals with this sensitive issue, and as the father of a son who had suffered similarly, I feel deeply connected to this story and many more similar ones. My personal appeal to you all would be to read, share, and get inspired by such tales. And, if you know a story resembling this, please do share them with me and I shall be happy to share them on this blog — Some heroes don’t have a face.
Meet Our Hero
Dr Amita Aggarwal
Senior Dental Surgeon Shalimar Garden Ext-2 (in private practice since 1999)
BDS from College of Dental Surgery Mangalore, Manipal Academy of Higher Education(MAHE)
Mother of two loving children — college-going son, and a daughter in 8th standard.
The message from the story, and the one that I strongly endorse and hope that it reaches as large an audience as possible, is very clear; End organ failure is not the end of the road in every case. Though in this story living donor transplant was resorted to, if our society is sensitised and motivated, cadaveric organ donation is the answer to such end-stage organ failure.