Mumbai: Cancer and heart attack can't stop this do-gooder doctor

Updated: Feb 18, 2020, 09:03 IST | Vinod Kumar Menon | Mumbai

Though he was diagnosed with prostrate cancer and had a heart attack within six months, psychiatrist Yusuf Merchant continues de-addiction programme for youth at his house, even as he trains a successor

Dr Yusuf Merchant after his bypass surgery
Dr Yusuf Merchant after his bypass surgery

For the man who has led hundreds of drug abuse victims out of darkness, there's barely a reason to fear cancer or heart blockages. The youngsters Dr Yusuf Merchant has been treating, shocked by his illness, sent him all their wishes after he underwent a bypass surgery last week.

Dr Merchant left around 29 youngsters in shock last week as he broke the news of his heart blockage to them. His patients, attending a de-addiction programme at a rehabilitation centre in Kalyan, got their first hint when the doctor began calling them in batches at his home in Crawford Market for their therapy sessions instead of travelling to Kalyan.

Founder president of Drug Abuse Information, Rehabilitation and Research Centre (DAIRRC), the 63-year-old informed his patients of his prostate cancer six months ago and the subsequent radiation treatment that he was undergoing. He was recently diagnosed with a heart blockage and underwent successful bypass surgery. However, as a thorough professional, he called for a meeting at Radio Club a week before his surgery with more than 60 people — currently undergoing therapy and some who have successfully undergone the de-addiction programme in the past — in attendance. Dr Merchant explained to them in detail about his health issues and even made arrangements by introducing a counsellor, Nabila Ankolvi, who will take care of the patients in his absence.

His sister Yasmin Merchant, said, "That's life for my brother — always focussing on his patients at the de-addiction centre." The therapy sessions he held at home were also helping him heal, Dr Suleman Merchant, Dr Yusuf's elder brother and former dean of LTMG Hospital added. "He needs to rest but knowing him, we let him conduct the sessions at home. He becomes restless if he is not around the kids."

Work to continue

Youngsters at Dr Yusuf Merchant’s rehabilitation centre at Fountain. File picYoungsters at Dr Yusuf Merchant's rehabilitation centre at Fountain. File pic

After being discharged from Bombay hospital post his bypass surgery, Dr Yusuf told mid-day that it was his brother who advised him to undergo Prostate Specific Antigen Level test which confirmed the prostate cancer. "The doctors initially started with hormones and later advised me to undergo 25 cycles of radiation with some 10 completed up to last December. Sometime in January second week, I began feeling unwell again and it was confirmed that I had severe blockage in my heart and had already experienced a heart attack," he explained further.

"Thanks to the prayers and wishes of my patients from all over the world and my family, I have got a second lease of life. I have always chased my dreams, achievements, fame and success, but now I want to enjoy every moment of life, appreciate things," said Dr Yusuf said.

Speaking of his war against drug abuse, Dr Yusuf said that the problem was on a rise among college-goers. "Easy availability and cheap drugs like Mephedrone/ MCAT/ Meow Meow are the reasons behind it. At the rehabilitation centre, the number of teenagers who have exposed themselves to this drug are phenomenally high and our aim is to get them out of this," said the man whose relentless campaign against Meow Meow led to its ban in 2015 in India.

'He is a fighter'

Rakesh (name changed), 20, was at a rehab centre for six months. He began smoking cigarettes at the age of 11 and soon dropped out of school. "When on Meow Meow, I would watch porn for hours. I would get depressed, sometimes even suicidal. The frustration and anger led to bouts of rage and I would bang my head on the wall, punch mirrors and even hit my parents and brother if they tried to intervene," he recalled.

Rakesh also dealt with paranoia, imagining that people wanted to kill him. "Drugs weren't making me happy anymore. I had heard of Dr Merchant and decided it was time to get help. And what a change it has been ever since. I am happy being sober and I never want to go back there. This has been possible only thanks to Dr Merchant. His presence itself speaks volumes for us. We know nothing will happen to him. He is a fighter."

'Always accessible'

Arpan (name changed), who was hooked on to drugs too, would call peddlers in his neighbourhood to supply him with Meow Meow. "I had used my driver and servants to collect these. I would remain awake for three to four days, and when on Meow Meow, my sexual drive would be immense. I would lock myself in a room and watch porn for hours at a stretch," he said, adding that once the low hit, "it was the most painful experience of my life." Arpan elaborated, "I couldn't sleep, eat and was paranoid. I was in a mess. My relationship with my family went downhill and so did my academics and friendships. Ultimately, I decided to tell my dad the truth and then my life changed."

Dr Yusuf Merchant undergoing radiation therapy
Dr Yusuf Merchant undergoing radiation therapy

With Dr Yusuf's help, Arpan made a fresh start. "He was always easily accessible. Dr Yusuf is more than family to me. I wish him a speedy recovery and a healthy life," he said.

No. of patients Dr Merchant is currently treating at home

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