Sometimes life delivers one major blow after the other. Hema Rajagopalan has had more than her fair share of blows. But she has proven herself to be the epitome of resilience in the face of a mountain of challenges.
Hema lost her father to severe pulmonary embolism and severe pulmonary hypertension when she was still in school. The family managed to cope with this massive loss and move on with their lives. Then Hema’s personal ordeal started when she was a 16-year-old Class X student. “I was in the exam hall for my Class X board exam when I felt pain and tenderness in the palm where I was holding the pen and writing my exams. Six months passed, and again I felt pain and swelling in my ankle. I was rushed to a nearby clinic. As I could not walk, I was carried to the clinic,” she states.
After examination by multiple specialists like pulmonologists and rheumatologists, Hema was prescribed steroids, anticoagulants, and other medicines via IV. “I was a timid 16-year-old girl at that time, and didn’t even know what my illness was. I had the medicines on time, and gained some weight and got discharged from the hospital,” she shares. She scoured the internet, and using her medication as a reference, Hema discovered that she was suffering from a chronic illness called SLE APLA Syndrome, more commonly known as Lupus, and educated herself on the illness.
Then in 2007, Hema was struck again by what she describes as “the Wolf”. Hema states, “I entered my college in 2006 and in 2007, I noticed severe pain in my toes and feet, and I literally could not take a single step to walk.” She was rushed to Apollo Hospital, Chennai in a wheelchair, where she was administered tremendously strong medication to help ease her pain. “My body was in severe agony, and I struggled to bear it with patience. I shouted in pain and felt angry. Within a week, my body and face became fluffy, and I lost my hair,” Hema describes.
A vascular surgeon diagnosed her with severe vasculitis.
Hema’s struggle continued. “In 2008, I started getting crying spells and panic attacks, and visited a psychiatrist. I had to take a lot of anti-depressants and mood boosters.” Hema graduated in 2010 with a degree in Biomedical Engineering and joined an MNC. “I was on cloud nine about my success in spite of these hurdles.”
Hema credits her family’s support for keeping her motivated at every stage of her struggle. She fought suicidal thoughts successfully, “Despite all the negative thoughts I had about my disease, I kept moving on with a successful education and career, which gave me the strength to face life and fight back hard.”
Hema went through the toughest phase of her life in 2013 when she got a pulmonary embolism and pulmonary hypertension diagnosis. Doctors fitted her with an IVC filter to prevent blood clots from spreading into her lungs, “Thoughts about my dad struck me. He has been my hero since my childhood days, and I got the same illness which he fought. I decided not to leave the fight this time.” She didn’t let go of her positivity despite colossal sufferings.
Hema met her partner and soulmate in 2014, and married him in 2015. “His love and support introduced me to a new life with new hopes. Why will I suffer anymore with such a lovable husband?” she says.
Hema continues to fight Lupus every day but with an even higher spirit. She credits the power of love with boosting her each day to stand up and fight with all her courage.
In the end, Hema has a message for everyone. “Awareness about this deadly disease [Lupus] is what India needs. This is more severe than cancer. I have been battling this disease for more than a decade. We just need recognition, and more support for the millions suffering from this disease.”
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