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He performed the country's first blood stem cell transplant and followed every movement the patient made for a month. Dr Vinod Raina is an oncologist you can trust with eyes closed.
For a man who deals with really complex and intimidating cancer cases, Dr Vinod Raina is remarkably - and infectiously - optimistic. "Your patient will be okay. " When you hear him say that in his characteristic booming voice you can sit back and relax. He means it and intends to see his conviction through. He rarely minces words - which means that when he says there is a 30 per cent chance a cancer will recur he isn't simply trying to scare you. He just means there is a 70 per cent chance that the cancer will not recur. Even his critics (the few that are there) can't help admire the doctor's upright approach.
Raina is something of a doyen of medical oncology at the country's premiere All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) where he has spent over 29 years - 23 of which as a faculty member. He performed the country's first blood stem cell transplant in 1994. The 32-year-old patient from Kerala, who was suffering from a myloma made a remarkable recovery.
"I was so nervous after that case. I followed the patient for one whole month, checking on him everyday even after discharging him. It is so satisfying to see him still come to me for follow-up check-ups, " says Raina, who has so far completed over 200 high-dose chemotherapies and stem cell transplants, on various cancers.
Raina has had under his care a horde of VVIPs including two prime ministers - V P Singh and Chandra Sekhar - but his concerns are equally about the contemporary society and its lifestyle. "The number of cancers will rise exponentially in the next two decades, thanks to increasing life expectancy and bad habits like tobacco and alcohol consumption, " he says. He predicts breast cancer among women and lung cancer among men will be the biggest threats in the next two decades.
The doctor is concerned about the need to increase the pool of welltrained oncologists in India. "Detecting cancer early is a special skill. I am constantly training junior doctors to become champions at diagnosing cancers early and treating them with courage. "
The high cost of cancer treatment bothers him. The solution, he says, lies in Indian scientists and pharmas developing highly effective anti-cancer molecules. "Prices will fall then, " he says. Raina's ultimate dream, in fact, is to set up a network of cancer centres that provide lowcost, highly effective care for the poor.
It bothers him that AIIMS is unable to maintain standards of hygiene in its corridors. "Hygiene is important in a hospital. Over crowding is killing AIIMS. People have such high expectations, we can't do much. Everybody comes here to get treated, " he says.
Vintage Hindi films and classic movie tunes are his way of de-stressing. He adores Raj Kapoor though his favourite film is Guide - which, he says, he has seen half a dozen times and can see it again any number of times. "I just don't tire of the movie, " he says with a laugh.
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