The unexpected encounter
Shabbir Udaipurwala -Mumbai, 2008
I am a technocrat having my own business and settled in the most happening city of Mumbai.
I always had a hardworking but stress free, healthy and busy social lifestyle.
One fine morning when I got up I felt slightly tired and feverish with body ache. I took a pill and left for work, and forgot amidst my hectic schedule that there was something like that bothering me .Next morning same symptoms! Some more painkillers and off to work. The symptoms persisted. So I visited our family doctor, Dr Asif Ali. He gave me some antibiotics and vitamins. I came back to normal and forgot all about it. However, the symptoms reappeared after a week .Being a very experienced doctor he asked for a blood test. And there you are! WBC were abnormally high – 2 lakhs/cmm. , with a remark saying there was a possibility of Leukemia. I was immediately referred to a haemotologist.
I landed in Dr.M.B. Agarwal’s clinic, him a well known haemotologist and oncologist of Mumbai. The diagnosis was confirmed as CML. Chronic Myeloid Leukemia. The date 6th march 2002, and the time 5.45pm. My world took a spin.A bolt came from the blue. My body became numb, my blood froze and I kept staring at the doctor’s face !!!
After a few moments life returned to my benumbed consciousness and I asked him what next? The doctor pulled out a sheet listing the line of treatment.
1. Bone marrow transplant.
3. Interferon and
I was 52 years old then so Bone Marrow Transplant (BMT) was ruled out. Glivec, the new drug on the block – unaffordable, Interferon, I was not ready for and so we settled for Hydroxyurea.
One month of Hydroxyurea and all counts became normal. I was very happy and thought the disease was gone. But the doctor said I will have to continue the medicine for lifetime. I continued the treatment with Hydrea for at least 15 months. My lifespan was predicted to be 3 to 5 years.
In July 2003, a close friend of mine read a news report on the Glivec Patient Assistance Programme (GIPAP) in Economic Times. As per the report GIPAP was to enroll new cases after a break from April 2003 for Glivec. I got in touch with their U.S.A. office and within two days my residence telephone rang and Dr. Pallavi of the Max India office was on line with some preliminary enquiry and some papers from my doctor. I was found eligible and could be enrolled in the programme. My joy knew no bounds! I was to get a new lease of life.
I met the GIPAP team at their Worli office; there was Amma, exceptionally good looking, tall, well dressed and a bit intimidating. Size does matter! She was busy on her cell phone – and Dr. Pallavi who was scrutinizing my papers – gentle, caring and saying that my case sounded very promising.
I could not believe it when in no time at all, my three months of supply of Glivec was in my hand.!
Being a businessman the following questions started rummaging my mind.
1. Why should a multinational like Novartis supply me such a costly medicine like Glivec free of cost?
2. What will be their gain in granting me this favour?
3. Will they supply the medicine continuously free of cost or later on they will ask me to buy from them?
Soon it was obvious that there was no hidden agenda and that this was a genuine assistance programme only with the well being of the recipient in mind. And The Max Foundation was there to supplement their donation with the much required emotional support.
Amma – that is, Viji , and I by now had became very good friends. A person who is very loving, caring and always ready to greet with warmth from the bottom of her heart are her greatest qualities. She , along with her wonderful, energetic team brought us all together as one big family – all of us on Glivec through GIPAP. I was very happy to become a part of the movement called Friends of Max and during the first All India Meeting in 2005 I got to know many of the people in this great family. Over the years we have all achieved one milestone after another and live life to the full. On my side I have been lucky to see my grandchild and as said by my loving wife (without whose moral support it would have been difficult to survive the onslaught of CML)
“ Shabbir , you will have the last laugh” .!!! Amen!
My thanksgiving list is quite long but I must mention my family doctor, Dr. Asif Ali, Dr. M.B. Agarwal, Viji and the MAX Foundation team, Novartis research and oncology department at Switzerland, Mr. Tyagi, Novartis Mumbai ,and above all Patricia Gonzalez without whose help I would not have survived this ENCOUNTER to write this testimonial. As long as these people are around me I am definitely going to live another few years in good health. May GOD give them long life.