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Home What's New Latest news Surgeon,Survivor,Superhero: Dr Robert Anthony

Surgeon,Survivor,Superhero: Dr Robert Anthony

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Survivor, Surgeon & Superhero
Dr Antony Robert Charles (46)
Consultant paediatric surgeon

Born with multiple life-threatening health problems, the doctor has undergone seven major surgeries since birth. But that hasn't stopped him from 'serving mankind'
The first thing that catches the eye once you walk past the bustling lobby of Rainbow Hospital teeming with young patients and their parents and into Dr Antony Robert Charles' quiet cabin, is the cheery Winnie the Pooh tie that the doctor is sporting. As a paediatric surgeon, who often treats children with life-threatening illnesses, the genial doctor realises the need to bring some cheer into the lives of his young wards.
Having spent his childhood in and out of hospitals because of multiple health problems, Dr Charles can empathise with his patients at a personal level. Born in 1969, at a time when paediatric and neonatal surgery was at a nascent stage, Charles suffered from several birth defects — anorectal malfunction, reflux and spina bifida which were affecting his intestines, kidneys and lower spine. With four surgeries within seven months of being born, doctors at St Philomena Hospital didn't think he would survive.
Today, the surgeon credits the great team of doctors led by Dr Joseph Antony at St Philomena Hospital and Sister Hedgiwa from Holland (who was working at the hospital) for pulling him through the crisis. So much so that Charles has taken his name from the doctor's last name, while his middle name comes from Sister Hedgiwa's father, Robert.
However, his struggles in the hospital was just the tip of the iceberg. As a school student, Charles remembers how difficult it was to get admission because of his urinary and fecal incontinence problem. While he managed to get into Padmavati School in Adugodi, in class four when he had to change schools, it was traumatic. "None of the well-known schools would take me in because of my problem," he recalls. When he finally got admitted to Bethany High School in Langford Town, the ignominy of going to school with a colostomy bag and urine leaking through his uniform, took its toll. "School life was not easy with the constant smell of urine on me and some bullies making life difficult. There were days when parents would ask the principal to take me out of the school as their children were uncomfortable." His principal Mark David, who was made of sterner stuff, made sure Charles stayed. "At the same time, my parents were persistent. And my grandmother, who used the cane generously, made sure that I had 100 per cent attendance for the six years I was at Bethany."
In fact, one of the standing jokes in school was that once they grew up and met 20 years hence, he would be recognised first because of the urine stains on his pants. At a recent reunion, the same friends asked him, "How come you were the only one to become a doctor in our batch?"
Had it been upto Charles and his parents though, he might have been a priest today. Greatly influenced by SrHedwiga (whose grave he plans to visit in Holland this year), Charles thought that by becoming a priest he could "serve mankind". It was Dr Robert Antony, who changed his mind. "I still remember how he caught me by my collar when I went to meet him about the issue. When I told him that I wanted to serve mankind, he told me that I could do that by becoming a doctor. He asked me to take up MBBS and said, 'After five years if you still want to become a priest, I will take you (to a seminary) myself," Charles says.
Getting through med school - St John's Medical College - was another challenge. "Until then, I had no friends. I believed that no one liked me and didn't trust anyone. At one point, I just refused to go to college. It was then that a senior intervened and told me how to adapt to the new place." Charles spent a weekend writing down his feelings, his pent-up frustration and then realised that he needed a new script for his life at college.
With his health having improved and his confidence too, Charles went on to graduate from St John's Medical College as the Best Outgoing student, then going on to train in general surgery at the Tata Memorial Hospital before completing his paediatric surgical training at the apex institute of the country, All India Institute of Medical Sciences, (AIIMS) in New Delhi.
While it came to choosing his specialisation - cancer surgery or pediatric surgery in 1999 - Charles realised that he wanted to help children who were facing problems like he did. "I think being a patient and having a series of problems made me more determined and focussed on getting to the other side of the scalpel and operate on children," he says, pointing out that 1 in every 3,000 children is born with such defects.
Practicing at Columbia Asia, Hebbal, Rainbow Hospital in Doddanakundi, Baptist Hospital and CSI Hospital, Charles' story has inspired many parents. "When parents are told about a malfunction in their new born child, it's not easy for them. Many of them break down. When I share my story, they are hopeful about the child's future."
Admitting that he still has bad days but has learnt to "manage it", Charles often gets urinary infections, continues to suffer from incontinence and has diabetes. While the colostomy bag is not required anymore, he does use a diaper sometimes. "But nobody would even know about it."
While he is a great example of having lived through several trials, Charles is appalled at the number of abortions taking place today because of minor deformities. "With so many surgeries, I've still managed to come this far. Surely, being physically perfect is no criteria for one's contribution to society. Let us give every child that chance," is his earnest appeal.

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