Dr Muffazal Lakdawala
Nervousness isn't a word that inspires much confidence, especially in one of India's leading bariatric surgeons. But Dr Muffazal Lakdawala is candid enough to admit that this is his most challenging case yet. He tells mid-day what prompted him to help Eman Ahmad overcome morbid obesity, the obstacles ahead and being on the threshold of medical history.
Dr Lakdawala, who is also the chairman of the Institute of Minimal Invasive Surgical Sciences and Research Centre at Saifee Hospital, where Eman is being treated, says he's ready to risk it all to allow the Egyptian national a shot at a quality life — she reportedly weighs 500 kg and suffers from a number of ailments.
Dr Muffazal Lakdawala with Eman Ahmed Abdulati on her arrival in Mumbai on February 11
Excerpts from an exclusive interview:
What's Eman's current condition?
Despite being bedridden for 25 years, she keeps smiling all the time. She is a strong woman. Her condition was much worse when I met her in Egypt last month. She has lost 22 kg. Her creatinine level has come down from 3.67 to 1.9. We will bring it further down to the normal level of 1.2. Potassium levels over 5 are considered life threatening. In Eman's case, it was 6.7. Even by touching her arm, I can sense that her condition is improving. Her skin was thicker before (since there was little movement); now, it is soft.
How do you communicate with her?
Owing to a stroke she suffered at the age of 11, her speech is slurred. Eman doesn't talk much; it is her sister, who has a basic grasp of English, who translates for me. We will soon start speech therapy to enable her to tell her story in her own words. I am learning Arabic, too.
Egyptian doctors have claimed that you brought Eman to India for publicity's sake.
Yes, people have made such allegations. But, the claim that I brought a patient weighing 500 kg from Egypt to Mumbai just for personal benefits is far-fetched. When no one helped Eman, her sister approached me around six months ago.
Being a doctor, I couldn't turn down the request. If I had wanted publicity, I would have informed the media the day Eman's sister sought me out. But the world learnt of the case only when Minister of External Affairs Sushma Swaraj helped with the medical visa. I have already operated on famous celebrities and politicians. So, I'm not fame-hungry. I receive hundreds of messages every day from people in Egypt, saying they're praying for Eman.
Was there any tussle between India and Egypt over the case? Are you satisfied with the help you've received?
This is a unique case in which two foreign governments came together just to rescue a patient. Starting from Consul General of Egypt in Mumbai Ahmad Khalil and Governor of Alexandria Hani El Messiry, the police, airport officials, companies like NOSCO and Horus (which helped transport Eman) in Egypt, to Egypt's national carrier, EgyptAir, especially Mohy and Alex of air cargo services, everybody supported us wholeheartedly.
How does it feel being under the public glare? You're on the threshold of scripting medical history.
I'm very nervous. To be frank, my friends asked me why I am taking such a huge risk, but I took the challenge for Eman's sake. She couldn't even move. She hadn't seen the sun in 25 years and excreted in bed. If I succeed in making her stand on her feet, there is little for me to gain as people already know me. I am risking everything that I have earned through years of hard work just for her. So, yes, I am nervous, but I am ready to risk all just for her. I don't want to come under undue pressure. (Laughs) When I'm under too much pressure, I just listen to music.
When are you going to operate on her?
The aim is to first make her lose 200 kg, to enable her to go home in six months. If she is able to move and sit freely, I might go to Egypt to operate on her after one-and-a-half years of observation and treatment.
Are there other such patients approaching you now?
I have received requests since Eman's case came into the spotlight from patients in Switzerland, Russia, Saudi and the UAE who have undergone bariatric surgeries, to redo their procedures. These patients had undergone surgeries in the US and the UK, but were not happy with the results.