As a medical practitioner, I consider myself blessed to be able to serve others. I have always wanted to do something out of the routine medical practice of a podiatrist. Special Olympics Bharat (India) has given me a platform to do so.
One of my most memorable cases was that of a 13-year-old athlete I met at the National Disability Meet in 2013.
She had a foot deformity, and her right leg was shorter than the other – at the knee level of her left leg.
What touched me was her positive attitude. I never heard her complain once. Her genuine happiness and positivity touched my heart.
I waited with bated breath for the results, but I needn’t have worried. She ran the race while using a crutch and ended up clinching a Gold medal during the meet.
Her victory felt like mine.
I have always been deeply moved by the happy-go-lucky demeanour of children. During a recent health screening conducted at the Asha Kiran Home – a home for underprivileged children, I gave out toffees to the children.
The pure and genuine smiles of the children made my day and encouraged me to continue my journey as a volunteer.
Though I have many years of volunteering to look forward to, this fulfilling path started more than a decade ago for me.
My first volunteering experience was when I was part of a training program held in Shanghai, China. It was the year 2007 during the Special Olympics World Summer Games, and I helped to conduct trainings for medical volunteers, with the aim of equipping them with skills to work better with athletes with intellectual disabilities.
I didn’t expect it, but that program was a game changer for me. It strengthened my passion and commitment to serve and make a genuine difference to the lives of people with intellectual disabilities.
After that exceptional experience in 2007, I started serving as a Clinical Director, traveling across major cities in India to provide free podiatry screenings for Special Olympics athletes.
In 2012, I was designated as a Regional Clinical Advisor (Asia Pacific) to provide consultation and to train other podiatrists across the region to work with people with intellectual disabilities.
I have since volunteered at international events including the 2011 Special Olympics World Summer Games held in Athens, and the 2015 Summer Games in Los Angeles, providing free podiatry screenings for athletes.
The journey as a medical volunteer has been an eye-opening experience. Very often, people with intellectual disabilities are not aware of, or are unable to articulate the physical condition that they suffer from. That makes our role as doctors even more important.
We must be sensitive to their needs, and use our skills to accurately diagnose their ailment, so that we can help people who otherwise would not have a voice.
I vividly recall conducting a screening at a National Camp in December 2012 in Bhopal. Out of the 432 athletes from all over India, 38 were assessed with a post-polio deformity where the legs were not equal in length. This was a revelation for some of my colleagues, who were visiting from outside of India. They had not come across cases like these in more developed parts of the world.
As podiatrists, we screen for multiple conditions including flat feet, high arched feet, skin and nail conditions such as Athlete’s foot, and painful nail issues.
Another developmental condition commonly observed in people with Down Syndrome is low muscle tone, which can cause injury during sports because of instability in the ankle, knees and back. People with cerebral palsy may sometimes also have stiff muscles, which make it difficult for them to stand, walk or run.
In some cases, occupational therapy or physiotherapy and prosthetic devices are needed. But in many cases, all it takes is a correction in shoe size. Just by wearing the correct footwear, a lot of pain can be avoided.
Although this is not the original routine medical practice of a podiatrist, I have experienced tremendous happiness in putting my skills to a meaningful cause. I feel so blessed to be supporting the Special Olympics, as I have learnt so much from the athletes. Their constant attempts to improve themselves alongside their positive attitude to life has been nothing short of inspiring. I am truly blessed to have the opportunity to serve.