Can you imagine a scenario where your bones get fractured if you sneeze too hard or if you shake hands with someone?
For Fathima Asla, 24, who has lived with Osteogenesis imperfecta (OI), also known as brittle bone disease, since she was only three days old, this is an everyday matter.
Even the slightest movement can cause severe fractures to her legs and arms. In just 20 years, she has had more than 50 fractures in her body and just as many surgeries.
But despite her physical limitations, Fathima nurtured big dreams and worked hard to make them come true. This is her story.
The First Few Years
“My father, Abdul Nazar, was also diagnosed with OI as a child. Although it is not as severe as mine, he had to face a lot of difficulties and had to give up on a lot of his dreams. Which is why when my parents found out that I had it, they made sure that I was never denied any opportunities,” Fathima explains.
Like every other child in Kozhikode’s Poonoor Village, Fathima also joined the nearby government school. Every day, her mother would carry Fathima on one shoulder and her school bag on the other.
“I still remember my primary school days. My parents had arranged a separate chair for me in the corner because I couldn’t sit on the wooden benches like the other kids. It was a sort of isolation I didn’t ask for but couldn’t avoid because of my situation,” she adds.
Fathima grew up in a loving atmosphere—everyone, from her teachers to classmates, was very sensitive to her condition. But she craved acceptance and wanted to be one of them.
“All of the students were very caring and would help me take notes and eat my lunch and would even wash my hands for me, but nobody wanted to be my friend and just sit and talk with me, which was quite hard for me,” she recalls.
But by the age of 12 when she was in Class 6, Fathima decided to change her outlook on life. She decided that her physical disability would never come in the way of what she truly wanted to do, which in this case was to make friends.
“I interacted with them and gave them a chance to get to know me. In doing so, I slowly shed my inhibitions, and that helped me realise my potential. I began to believe that I was capable of achieving anything that I wanted,” she explains.
Stronger Than Bones
After scoring 90% in her Class 10 exams, Fathima decided to enrol in the science stream for the rest of her school education.
While the school authorities discouraged her from going ahead with that decision and asked her to opt for the humanities stream instead stating that she would not be able to clear the practical examinations, a determined Fathima went ahead with her application, which was ultimately accepted.
But a severe fracture and a surgery that followed made it extremely difficult for her to cope with the syllabus and study for her exams.
“I had fractured my right thigh, and it was tough for me to move around even in the wheelchair. But I powered through because it wanted to finish my studies at the same time as everyone else. My family couldn’t afford to send me for separate tuitions so I opted for the crash course that my school offered where I could learn everything in one go. So after months of missing classes, I went to write my final exams,” says Fathima.
Clearing all her written and practical exams, Fathima graduated with 85% proving all her teachers wrong. With a clear cut aim to go to medical college, Fathima prepared for her entrance exams.
“Although I gave my entrance exam, I was in the differently-abled category, so there was a special interview with the medical board and their approval was required for me to pursue the course. As soon as I entered the room, the panelists took one look at my wheelchair and said that I was not eligible. I was completely heartbroken,” explains Fathima.
Walking Into Her Dreams
But Fathima didn’t give up. She set aside that year entirely to prepare for the entrance exams and to try something she had never done in her entire life, to walk.
“I understood that if I had to be eligible, I would have to get out of my wheelchair. So over the next few months, I tried walking around the house and with my crutches. It was quite risky, but with the help of my parents and my siblings, I started to get the hang of it,” says Fathima.
A year later, Fathima was able to attend the interview in her crutches. She let out a whoop of joy when the board gave its approval—she had quite literally fought her way through to her dreams.
Today, she is a final year student at the Kottayam Medical College and is pursuing a degree in homoeopathic medicine.
In addition to her studies, Fathima is also a YouTuber and owns a channel called ‘Dream Beyond Infinity’ where she shares her thoughts and ideas. Through the channel, which now has more than 5000 subscribers, she also introduces other differently-abled individuals and gives them a platform to share their stories.
“Being differently-abled does not mean you should give up on your dreams; it just means that you have to try ‘different’ ways to achieve them,” Fathima concludes.
(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)