Giving Voice To The Voiceless
When a person speaks again after losing his voice box, for me it is more like rebirth, like Aum being recreated, because it is the origin of all sound.Dr Vishal Rao
As a Head and Neck Oncology surgeon, Dr Rao understood that when the voice box of patients is removed during surgery, they crave to speak, to communicate. The prosthesis available in the market to enable them to speak costs Rs 20,000 (to be changed once in six months) and is not liable for poor people. So he decided to design something affordable for the poor. Today the world knows him as the one who endowed ‘voice to the voiceless’ by developing a voice prosthesis named AUM, which enables patients to speak after throat cancer surgeries, at an affordable cost of Rs 50. “When a person speaks again after losing his voice box, for me it is more like a rebirth, like Aum being recreated, because it is the origin of all sound,” says Dr Rao. He respects the dignity of the poor and feels that they need the best and they should be able to buy it, not beg for it. “You don’t give torn clothes to the poor. They deserve better,” he argues. Based in Bengaluru, he has vast experience in the field of Otorhinolaryngology and Surgical Oncology. He is also a visiting scholar at the Department of Otolaryngology at the University Of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, USA, a Consultant at the Institute of Public Health and a Director of the Cancer Prevention and Tobacco Control Project with WHO Tobacco Free Initiative.
Apart from this, he also runs an initiative called ‘Heal your Life, Heal your Cancer’. Dr Rao fondly mentions an experience that changed his perspective on life. While doing voluntary service at the Sri Sathya Sai Super Speciality Hospital at Puttaparthi, he was astonished to see that the hospital had no billing counter. It was the only medical centre perhaps globally that provided the best treatment, from cardiac care to neurosurgery, totally free of cost and without any discrimination. The finest spirit of humanitarian service that he saw there taught him that the goal of one’s life should be to serve the needy and the poor. Stating examples of Mother Teresa and Gandhiji, Dr Rao says, “When ambition meets purpose, it’s a combination that changes you forever and when they come together, they embark on a journey to unveil the path successfully and selflessly.” The confidence that makes Dr Vishal Rao say “It is you who decides the scope of work, and not the scope of work that decides you” was inherent in him even in his student days. Although he was often advised to choose radiology or plastic surgery overhead and neck oncology he felt a connection with the speciality from the first year of medical school.
Today, when he looks back and connects the dots, they fall perfectly into the pattern destined for him to help the helpless. An incident that created a deep impact and strengthened his endeavour to help fight cancer was his experience with a young 28-year-old techie who was admitted under his care for recurrent tongue cancer. He was in the terminal stage of his illness and the last month was the most difficult. “A few minutes before he breathed his last, he gently held my hand and asked me if he would’ve possibly evaded cancer had he stopped consuming tobacco,” recalls Dr Rao. That day he realized that this is one addiction that is a preventable cause of cancer. He is a doctor who strongly believes in the preventive rather than the palliative approach to oncology and works with several groups on holistic healing. Dr Rao’s extensive understanding of medicine, health, human values, pain, and hopelessness is from the significant amount of time he spent volunteering in villages for screening programmes, health checks, conducting de-addiction and rural preventive health programmes. One cannot deny the fact that fear of death is never too far for a patient suffering from cancer.
According to Dr Rao, preparing a patient for an inevitable death is as much a doctor’s job as is saving a patient’s life. “Life and death are two sides of the same coin,” he says. “If a doctor is able to save a life, it is desirable that he understands death too. In fact, accepting death is an important aspect of counselling that ought to be known in oncology. Understanding, explaining and thus helping accept this phenomenon has significant bearing not only on the patients but also on the family and near and dear ones.” Still. this young doctor is optimistic that one can heal the cancerous cells and coax them back to harmony through love
KNOW YOUR DOCTOR
Dr Vishal Rao
Head & Neck Oncology Surgeon Works at HCG, Bengaluru
- Visiting scholar at the Department of Otolaryngology in the University Of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, USA
- Consultant at the Institute of Public Health
- Director of the Cancer Prevention and Tobacco Control Project with the WHO Tobacco Free Initiative
- Runs an initiative called Heal your Life, Heal your Cancer
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