“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” These words were written by Shakespeare for a play well-known as ‘Romeo and Juliet,’ but in life, or the larger play in which we all perform our roles, there are several instances when these lines resonate just as well. One such instance was when Dr. Muffazal Lakdawala, a laparoscopic expert and obesity surgeon, had the opportunity to speak about his experience in the limelight due to the faith he had in his abilities to cure Eman, and the ‘faith’ her family bestowed on him.
The experience, as you’ll soon realise, was a rollercoaster ride, but when asked whether he would go through it all over again, Dr. Muffazal Lakhdawala’s answer was an emphatic “Yes!” So in this love story between man and his profession, his patient’s background did not matter, and according to them, Dr. Muffazal Lakhdawala still remains an appendage in Eman’s life for helping her shed 242 kilograms.
Last Tuesday, like the many Tuesdays before that, the gastronomical delights infused with the tasteful banter went hand in hand with the natural joie de vivre of our Rotarians. While lunch was enjoyed in the North Block of the Taj Hotel, Dr. Muffazal Lakhdawala’s discourse was to take place in the South Block. A smaller venue as compared to the Ballroom, but intimate enough to give any speaker a special charge. The speaker began, “Let’s get down to what we think is the real Eman story.”
Eman Ahmed is from Alexandria, Egypt, and is the only surviving patient of obesity weighing 500 kilograms prior to surgery. Her case fell into the hands of Dr. Muffazal Lakhdawala when he received a letter from Shaimaa Ahmed. “Please help my sister, she is dying and dying very fast,” it read. Due to her situation, Eman was bedridden at the age of 12. Her obesity had gotten out of control and required immediate medical attention. To those who have been following the news on Eman Ahmed, the rest is history, but you’ll soon realise why Rome wasn’t built in a day.
When Dr. Muffazal Lakhdawala agreed to take up the case, he claimed that, “She had every possible disease. She had lost her voice. She could not swallow. She had never walked. She had kidney failure. She had a severe lung disease. She had a gall stone. She had liver issues. She had right-sided heart failure. She had multiple bedsores. She had urinary tract infection…” By all means, she should have been under intensive care, instead she was dying a slow death at home. It was only a matter of time before the media caught up, making Eman’s case a matter of global concern. “By then everyone jumped into the fray, but her sister felt that she would get the best care in India.”
So amidst all the media fanfare, a still bedridden Eman descended from her flat in Alexandria with the help of a crane; ascended onto a cargo flight using a special apparatus; and, was safely admitted into a special room made for her at the Saifi Hospital in Mumbai. You can imagine the delicacy of the situation; the intricacies involved in ensuring a 500 kilogram patient defies gravity at every juncture of the journey from her house in Alexandria to her hospital bed in Mumbai. Till then Eman had not moved an inch to the left or right, lying still as a rock for help to come knocking at her door. What did it take to help her? Dr. Muffazal Lakhdawala summed up by saying, “For almost five months I became technically divorced; My son had stopped seeing his father. I would sleep in the night looking at Eman and wake up in the morning to look at Eman.”
According to media reports, we are aware that Eman Ahmed was successfully treated, but there were also reports that were in complete antithesis of what the doctors were calling a success. As noted by Dr. Muffazal Lakhdawala, “It is ironic that the word ‘Eman’ means faith. That was the only thing that was broken by her sister.” This vague but intriguing statement got the complete attention of the audience, especially for those who had been following the case. After all, it was the speaker’s silence during the ‘trial by media’ that everyone had been waiting patiently for him to break.
Dr. Muffazal Lakhdawala, finally, broke his silence – Not in the same manner that he had chosen to speak about the case with the media. In the company of Rotarians, he was more comfortable, and was able to voice his angst about having to deal with the sensationalism: “As a doctor you become famous because of the famous people you operate on and not because you are famous.”
Since he helmed the entire medical operation, the media began by raising him to celebrity status. When he finally brought Eman to Mumbai from Egypt for her treatment, he said, “I almost felt like a superstar with all the paparazzi present at the airport.” However, as Malcolm X once said, “The media’s the most powerful entity on earth. They have the power to make the innocent guilty and to make the guilty innocent, and that’s power. Because they control the minds of the masses.” And so the innocent did in fact, become guilty.
For his courage, Dr. Muffazal Lakhdawala became a hero overnight. He needed to operate on Eman at the soonest, but her condition only permitted him to do so once she lost over a hundred kilograms. Nonetheless, the therapy prescribed to her began showing positive results. And in the meantime, some of the best scientists from Harvard, Cambridge, and Melbourne University worked on test samples to ascertain the most suitable time for Eman to undergo a laparoscopy. Dr. Muffazal Lakhdawala did all he could to ensure the best treatment possible for this overseas guest, who trusted the Indian medical system to find relief from her ailment. Unfortunately, the naysayers chose to condemn his mission by calling it a mere ‘publicity stunt’. Here, again, it was his undeterred courage that they pointed a finger at.
While the media had managed to divide the public opinion for and against Eman’s cause, they did not manage to deter Dr. Muffazal Lakhdawala and his team. The operation was a success and Eman was able to, for the first time in over 25 years, move around on a wheelchair. She now weighed 171 kilograms. But it was at this juncture of success that the doctor faced the greatest blow: “She broke the only bond that exists between a doctor and his patient. Faith!” Here the speaker refers to Eman’s sister – Shaimaa, who had fed the press with the fodder they had been looking for. The kind of information that can make anyone lose faith in humanity. “Shaimaa would tell Eman to cry on video and then post it on social media.” There were claims made by Shaimaa, about the inadequacy of the medical support provided by the Hospital that could not be substantiated with any evidence, but the journalists had a field day. At one point, she made an allegation that her sister was in a state of coma, which she could not pull off for too long, considering the surveillance cameras could see through her lies.
Mahatma Gandhi once said, “You must not lose faith in humanity. Humanity is an ocean; if a few drops of the ocean are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty.” These were the very words that Dr. Muffazal Lakhdawala ascribed to, in order to attach a method to the madness. Eman’s sister, not realising the outcomes of her action, had managed to harm many Indians in Egypt for they had to face the wrath of ill-informed Egyptian citizens. It was not until the parliament in Egypt intervened that the matter subsided. “Till this day, I do not know why she would do such a thing. But everyday is a lesson, and working on Eman’s case, I have learnt a great deal,” concluded Dr. Muffazal Lakhdawala.
Although many of his revelations were met with the applause of the Rotarians, this time the applause was louder and took a while to subside. When Dr. Mukesh Batra, the Rotary President, proceeded to the Q&A session, many took it as an opportunity to voice their appreciation. Even after the meeting was adjourned, Rotarians had more to say to Dr. Muffazal Lakhdawala, only this time he was approached Individually. And since social media is what it is, bad or good, it must prevail; so many clicked photographs with the speaker, and the rest is history.