Worry not, Dr Arvind Bhateja's got your back!
Arvind Bhateja is one of the city's most prominent spine surgeons, but even referring to him as such might be doing him an injustice. The city-based doctor has two great passions - his career and cycling, which he brings together beautifully to serve a greater cause.
Dr. Bhateja often sees patients in his OPD who need surgery but are forced to give up on it because of the expense. "People from lower income groups go to government or government-aided hospitals for treatment, but the waiting list in these places is, quite naturally, very long. I decided to do something for them, because very often, the people who come seeking treatment are also the sole breadwinners for their families."
Still, how can one perform spine surgeries at no cost? It seemed an impossible task at first, but in 2009, he and his medical partner came up with a viable solution, one that included bringing their two great passions together. "Cycling and surgery have one thing in common - they require a great deal of discipline. In terms of ethos, they are very similar," said Dr Bhateja, as he described his area of social work. They founded Giving "Back", a free spine surgery initiative at the iconic Sita Bhateja Multi Specialty Hospital in Bengaluru.
In 2013, Gautam Raja of Spectrum Racing (India's best amateur racing cycling team) undertook the arduous eight-day Tour of the Nilgiris (TFN) challenge, as a charity rider for Giving "Back". The following year, Dr. Bhateja's younger Vivek decided to take part in the tour. In 2015, he volunteered to go personally, but met with an accident and couldn't take part. "I'm back this year and I'm all set to participate in the next tour, generating funds for needy patients," emphasises Dr Bhateja, who has already been a part of over 40 cycling races in Bengaluru alone.
"Spinal diseases are a debilitating burden on the most productive demographic of our population - the breadwinners of many a family. These conditions often mean, at the very least, a long interruption in the working life of a person, often at the peak of his or her career. With the burgeoning numbers of patients suffering from these conditions, public institutions are struggling to provide quick and effective treatment. What makes matters worse is that surgical treatment is prohibitively expensive. At the same time, delays compound the damage and can hinder the recovery of patients," says Dr Arvind.
In 2015, the Giving Back team performed 21 highly complex surgeries, a feat that spurred them on to do even better the following year. Dr Bhateja is now overseeing fund-raising through a mega event, the 900-km Tour of Nilgiris, India's biggest cycling event, which takes place over eight days and covers three south Indian states - Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Kerala. " We have performed some 100 free spine surgeries over the years, on people from low-income groups who really need the treatment," he said.
Naturally, a background check is of the essence. "We ensure that there are a proper standard and protocol is followed at all times. It's not about handing out free surgeries to anybody who needs one. Only those who can prove themselves to be financially weak avail the waiver," he added.
"Our Free Spine Surgery Programme is aimed at alleviating the pain of needy patients and also at taking some of the pressure off public healthcare systems in the process. We perform spine surgeries of the highest complexity completely free of cost to the patient. Surgeons such as myself operate for free and SBSH waives all other charges including hospitalisation, treatment, consumables, medicines and implants," Dr Bhateja explained.
He is proud of his progress and has every reason to be - over 90% of the patients are fully satisfied. "In the last three years, there has been no major complication," he said, reiterating with a smile, "Not a single one!"