Innovator, thinker, voice to the voiceless, surgeon extraordinaire
At 'Preface' we look at profiling people who have made a difference and Dr. Vishal Rao definitely tops the list.
He is a rare combination of a dreamer, doctor, and an innovator. Known for his positive and motivational attitude, his dynamic range of acquaintances and a sense of adventure that knows no bounds, Dr. Vishal Rao for sure is not the usual doctor you will come across.
Dr. Vishal Rao is presently the Chief of Head Neck surgical oncology at HCG Bangalore, India. He is a TEDx speaker and inventor of the 'Aum Voice Prosthesis- a speaking device for throat cancer patients costing only a Dollar'. He holds under his name more than 8 patents filed for his innovations. He has been conferred the Honorary FRCS by the Royal College of Surgeons Glasgow recognizing his contributions in the field of head neck oncology.
He is the recipient of the Judy Wilkenfeld Award for Global excellence in tobacco control 2017, Rotary vocational training award 2016 for inventing the voice prosthesis for his throat cancer patients. He received the 'VarshadaKannadiga' Award 2018 (Kannadiga of the Year) for his contributions in Science and Technology.
He is presently associate editor of Cancer therapy and oncology international journal and has more than 50 national and international publications to his credit, and is a reviewer for 10 international journals. He also works with Bloomberg partners for Tobacco Control in collaboration with state and union government to implement the WHO FCTC- Framework convention for Tobacco Control through National Tobacco control program. He has been a visiting faculty to John Hopkins University leadership programs. He is a member of the High-Powered committee on tobacco control and cancer control of Govt of Karnataka. He is also a member of NCD Task for Bengaluru city. Not a person to take things lying down, he has faced life threats and brickbats from various lobbies for the good work he is doing on tobacco control. He is also the in charge coordinator union for international cancer control at HCG.
He completed his training in Head Neck oncology surgery at the Tata Memorial Hospital in Mumbai along with a brief stint at the Pittsburgh school of medicine as visiting scholar.
Personally, he is one of the most fascinating individuals I have come across. He can talk on any subject under the sky with equal passion. His energy can even turn a hospital into a lively place. His passion for motorcycles is unbeatable. When I contacted Dr. Vishal Rao for an interview, he gladly obliged.
1. Dr. Vishal Rao, you made headlines with your invention of 50 Rs devise to aid throat cancer patients, can you please brief us little more about this device? Is there a background or an incident for this invention?
Aum Voice Prosthesis is the device I and my co-inventor Shashank innovated for throat cancer patients at less than a $. The idea was that Speech is a right, not a Privilege. We are all gifted with our voice boxes for free. Unfortunately, thousands of Indian patients who lose their voice box from throat cancer were unable to afford the western devices. Poor patients such as coolie, watchmen, laborer who wished to speak. We innovated this device dedicated to them that converts the food pipe into a voice box.
Over the years I have come across hundreds of patients who remained silent after surgery as they were unable to afford the device. It all came into life when a security guard patient asked me for a solution to attend his daughter's wedding. This incited a deep sense of purpose in me to help these patients and initiate a device that would inspire the world and help my patients.
2. How does it feel to be awarded 'Varshada Kannadiga' and the Honorary FRCS by the Royal College of Surgeon?
Personally, humbling. This is not what I have worked for, neither for Award nor for rewards. I just kept working keeping my patients in mind. This was a gift almighty bestowed for my service. These recognitions reiterate the faith and love our people and the international community placed in my work.
3. Coming from a family of Doctors was it a choice or a compulsion to get into medicine? And why Oncology?
My initial journey in education was of informed choices. Compulsion came from my family to make an informed choice, a career that I would love to work and more importantly be useful to society, a little beyond myself.
Why oncology, I still don’t know. But there was this unknown magnetic force that attracted me to this field. Every time I read a chapter or book in my medical school on cancer, it was as though it was a conversation. Sometimes, it made me feel I met a long lost friend in these books. Was it destiny that reached out with its open arms to this field? Well, I think so. I still can’t explain, why I was so obsessed with the voice box in my first year of Med school in Dissection labs. I would sit with Dr. Humbarwadi, my professor for hours dissecting this organ trying to know more.
Today it all sums up.
4. How is your normal day like? Was there a timewhen your personal life needed you the most, but your profession didn’t let go of you?
A normal day in my life looks a little like this- with a spectrum that spans from no sleep to an undisturbed Sunday. Our day begins with Surgeries, one major at least and 1-2 minor surgeries. By 2 PM we usually hand over the major surgeries to plastic surgery team and then head to our Outpatient clinics. This goes on till about 7 PM, following which we do our rounds to plan the next day and retire by 8 PM. Sunday is the last day of the week to consolidate the weeks work, and usually a preparation for Monday and hence not really a Sunday. Saturday, we keep some time in the afternoon for talks, lectures, and research exclusively. This is in addition, to the inbuilt academics we have though the week.
Many occasions through these years create a tug between your work and personal life. A few occasions:
• Most serious of them all, was when my son was in ICU and serious. At the same time, my patient's plight and their requests made me feel helpless. I saw a patient perspective as patients’ caregiver myself.
• Out on a dinner date with my wife, and I get an emergency call from my hospital :)
• Out on a family holiday and your hospital director wants to get on a conference call.
• I’m doing my Yoga and meditation, and I am awakened in midst of this to attend an urgent call from the hospital
5. What do you do when not working?
Spending time with family, biking, innovating
6. What inspires you?
My Books. Lectures I bookmark. My Teachers. My Guru above all.
My tag line- Dare to Dream and Be wise to wake up and act.
7. With a crazy schedule like yours what’s your mantra for peace of mind and how do you handle stress?
My Mantra - the End goal of education is Knowledge, goal of knowledge is service. What use is this knowledge if I cannot serve a fellow human? Service brings out immense peace of mind. When you serve someone less fortunate, you are filled with thanksgiving. When you wipe someone else tears, you dry up your own. I have heard - beat Formula if 'I want peace' is - to drop 'I and Want' only 'Peace' will remain.
Stress is handled when you have it. The formula is to not have it. The best way for this is - Acceptance of the current situation as it is while doing your best. Deep Breathing further helps!
8. What do family and friends mean to you in your life and their role in where you are today?
Family - I would say is Everything. They are your emotional support system. As mother Theresa told a common man who asked her, what I can do for world peace. She said, just love your family. If your family is peaceful, the society will, the nation will, and the world will. Friends and extended arms of our family. Many of them are far away, yet so close. Some even if I speak to them after 6 months it seems as though like yesterday.
9. Is there something you wish to say to people who are inspired by you?
You seldom achieve anything that is beyond your own imagination. And If you think something is impossible, then please do not disturb the people doing who are trying to achieve it.
10. Do you have any plans to get into politics sometime later in life?
I have always believed in a participatory Democracy to bring about a social change. This is most critical to bring about the change we believe in. Does it mean entering politics? I don’t think so, and currently, don’t plan to do so.
1. Describe yourself in 3 words.
Agile, Disruptive, Disconnected
2. What compliment do people give you the most?
You inspired us, made us laugh and made us think too.
3. If you had a chance for a “do-over” in life, what would you do differently?
Work, educate and innovate to prevent cancers from grassroots to grass top.
4.What is one thing that annoys you the most about people?
The fear to embrace and celebrate failures.
5. Two things you would change about yourself?
Being better organized, Slowing down.
6. What’s the most embarrassing thing you've ever done?
Telling my grandmother to not entertain my school Principal’s call, as he may Call for donation. (In reality, He wanted to call and complain about me. My grandmother did not allow him to talk, and reprimands him in return for troubling me!
7.What’s your favorite book? Which writer would you want to write your biography?
An Unexpected Life in Science - by Howard J Bishop
Michael Norton, Author of 365 ways to change the world
(Dr. Vishal Rao is an inspiration to all. People who have heard, known or met him will agree on this.)
Courtesy: Shalini Kanchan
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