Dr. Arvind Bhateja, one of the top neurosurgeons in the country — with over 3,000 surgeries and a bevy of awards under his belt — has performed 97 free or subsidised spinal surgeries for underprivileged patients from 2013 to December 2016. And he has been able to fund them by simply pedaling hard.
Dr Bhateja has two distinct identities. The Bangalore-based doctor heads the neurosurgical team at Sita Bhateja Speciality Hospital (named after his mother who is also a doctor). He also happens to be one of the top amateur cyclists in the country. Combining his love for one with the other, he has been able to save numerous lives.
Case in point: During the latest edition of the prestigious Tour of Nilgiris (TFN), a punishing race that that covers over 800km across Karnataka, Kerala, and Tamil Nadu in six days, he not only placed first in the Veterans category but also managed to raise Rs. 3.5 lakhs to cover the spinal surgeries of the underprivileged, who can’t afford to pay for it themselves.
The idea of fundraising for the needy while participating at TFN came after Bhateja’s hospital became medical partners for the event. As part of the engagement, TFN offered the hospital one free participation slot.
“We have been associated with TFN since 2009 and were the medical partners for all years except one. In 2013 Gautam Raja, a friend and a member of my cycling team, came to me and said that he wanted to be the rider from Sita Bhateja,” he notes. In return for the slot, Gautam and Dr. Bhateja decided on raising money for the hospital itself.
“A lot of patients who come to our hospital can’t afford it. Before we came up with this initiative, there were times when we would subsidise the rates or even do some surgeries for free. But it wasn’t feasible because there are always costs incurred for equipment or technology. Sometimes they need implants which are expensive and we would have to turn them away,” he says. The alternate is often government hospitals, which may be cheaper but have the disadvantages of longer queues and lack of timely treatments. Dr. Bhateja decided to support such patients as much as he could.
“Spinal surgery is still not fully understood and patients are understandably afraid of it as well. We help them in whichever way we can.”
And help them, they have. In what has become a tradition, Dr. Bhateja himself, or one of his cycling peers, participate in the Tour to raise money for the cause. In 2013, they were able to raise Rs. 1.5 lakhs; in 2014, Dr Bhateja’s brother Vivek rode on behalf of the hospital and raised Rs. 3.5 lakhs; and in 2015 Rs. 10 lakhs were raised. This year, since he won the competition, Dr Batheja will also be selling his prizes that include a Trek bike and a Hero MTB and donate that money towards the scheme.
The point of the initiative is to help as many as possible and give them the best medical care available. Patients are asked to give whatever money they can and the hospital covers the rest. “We don’t do a shoddy job just because they are not paying us and we don’t try to cut corners. We treat every disease and every patient equally, irrespective of their financial status,” he affirms.
It is this commitment that he takes along when he hits the road. Having begun in 2009, when he bought his first bike on “Valentine’s Day”, the love affair between him and the machine has only gotten stronger over the years. Impressively, he spends 8 to 10 hours in a week on the saddle training. And it has paid off as Dr Bhateja is a regular fixture on the podium at local races. “On weekdays I train mostly indoors in the morning for two hours and then I go to work, where I spend most of my day. During weekends, I do longer rides with my team that last about three hours. So, I don’t have much of a social life,” he laughs.
But he does have the power to save actual lives. And he does that every single day.
You can donate to the hospital here