TomorrowMakers ™

Giving back to society by pedaling hard: How Dr. Arvind Bhateja is changing lives

20 September 2017
A neurosurgeon! A cyclist! A philanthropist! But most importantly, a believer in good.
 

Dr. Arvind Bhateja, is not your run-of-the-mill doctor. Apart from being a popular name amongst the country’s neurosurgeons, he’s also known in the cycling community. Sounds strange? It isn’t. In fact, his story is quite an inspirational one. Along with treating his regular patients, Dr. Bhateja has managed to treat many our society’s underprivileged by raising funds through cycling. With a powerful combination of dream, dedication and donation, and a belief in a better tomorrow, here’s what he has to say.

Tell us something about you and your family

I come from a family of five. My dad was in the army and my mother is a doctor who runs a hospital in Bangalore. My elder brother is an engineer and the younger one is in administration.

What inspired you to start cycling for this cause?

I started cycling just to keep fit. But then, I really began to like it and I started becoming more serious about it. In 2009, I developed an interest in riding for this event called ‘Tour of Nilgiris’, for which a friend of mine happens to be a co-founder. He told me that they were having difficulty bringing a medical partner on board to support the tour.

Then in 2013, a friend decided to ride TFN representing hospital because he wanted to do something good for the hospital. We racked our brains and came up with this idea that we could raise funds to help patients who need spinal surgery but can’t afford it.

Why cycling? Why not some other method of fund raising?

Cycling, because I am passionate about the sport itself. I do things for cycling even outside of my profession. I co-founded a racing team in 2010 - called spectrum racing. We are about 20 male and female cyclists, and are probably one India’s largest and maybe best-known amateur cycling teams.

I have been doing things in the cycle community for a while. We support local races as medical partners. I am also on the Advisory Council of Bangalore Bicycle Championship. We started something called a ‘development team’ under the spectrum-racing banner, which encourages young cyclists to get into the sport and start racing.

We have also tried online fund-raising campaigns called Milaap that we use mainly for patients who cannot afford brain surgeries.

 

How many surgeries have you performed from just raising funds? How do you feel about it?

Since 2014 we have done about 130 odd surgeries with funded money. It is very satisfying because we don’t have to turn anyone away. Most of these patients were turned away from other places, or were asked to wait for a few months because they could not afford surgeries. It is satisfying because you are doing something useful for someone, without expecting a reward or anything in return.

What are some of your most memorable achievements?

The Rashtriya Ratan Award is what I recollect. I had an injury in 2014 and had to undergo spine surgery myself. I stopped cycling for about 6 weeks. Getting back on a bike after those injuries and riding was tough. I later took part in a 100-km race in Bangalore and managed to finish first.

In 2015, I had planned to ride the Tour of Nilgiris with my younger brother. Unfortunately, two weeks before the race, I crashed and could not participate. Then in 2016, I signed up for the tour and on the very last day, I managed to win in my age group.

This year is the 10th edition of TFN. It usually lasts eight days and passes through three states - Kerela, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, covering approximately 900 kms. It’s an absolute joy to take part in that.

In your mission to treat the less fortunate, what are the biggest challenges you faced so far?

If you want to you do something passionately, nothing can stop you. The reward is what keep us going; the reward being the gratitude and the smile on your patient’s face is very satisfying.

Difficulties are that people do not believe we are actually doing this. People think there is something fishy about it or we might be making money elsewhere.

Another challenge is getting people to believe that we can pull this off. My colleagues feared that a lot of people would misuse it. But I convinced them that once we started, everything would be alright.

I believe that - We make our living by what we get and we make a life by what we give.

What is your opinion about the healthcare situation in the country?

It is changing, but I am not sure if it’s changing for the better. Changes can be seen in very small pockets, mostly in cities. In rural and other areas of the country, it is still very much the same.

The private medical sector is more expensive, and many people cannot afford that. There is also the issue that most people have begun to think of doctors as money-making. When they are advised to undergo surgeries, they think we are trying to fill our pockets.

As far as medical care is concerned, India is average. There are certainly very good hospitals and medical centers, and we get excellent medical care all over the country. But from an overall perspective, there are still issues with the quality of medical care. People who are financially challenged don’t always get reliable and empathetic medical care. I want to see that change; we should be working towards that. This country should be recognised for its ethics and empathy and quality of care. There should be no doubt in anyone’s mind that if you go to a doctor you will get the best possible care.

What drives you to continue working towards this?

The number – 130-odd cases is an encouraging number. One reason we started this was to make people believe in the power of good surgery. Treating a patient who really needs it is gratifying for the patient as well for a surgeon.

We’ve realised that a common belief is if you have spine surgery, you will probably never walk again; which is not true! We have to reinforce that there is hope, and that undergoing spine surgery is not the end of the world. The results we’ve had, prove it. We have a less than 1% complication rate in 130 cases.

How do you make people aware about this?

Online and through social media. We are planning to do something different, involving bike riding to help fundraising.

What do you do in your down time?

Probably ride my bike! It needs lot of discipline and it pretty much means that you have no social life, no late nights or alcohol. Whatever time I can spare, I try to spend with my family. I make sure I’m not distracted, looking at my phone when I’m at home on Sundays.

What do you hope to achieve on the personal and professional front?

As far as cycling is concerned, my dream is to be the first Indian to take part in the World Masters Championship. It was held in France this year and about two thousand five hundred cyclists from all over the world took part in it. Unfortunately, India has never been represented. I want to change that. I want to see a cyclist wearing the Indian tri-colour participate in the race.

My dream, as far as my work goes, is to do more, and accomplish better numbers, in terms of surgeries so I can help more people, while keeping our complications rate at the lowest level.

Final thoughts?

I find people are becoming more money minded. It is important to ask yourself – What you are doing and why you are doing it. Whatever you do, make a difference!

 
 
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