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HELPING HAND

The onco with a dream

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REACHING OUT: Chaturvedi often extends financial help to poor patients

He clocks nearly 16 hours of work every day and half the Sundays of the year he is at work. Dr Harit Chaturvedi's only stress buster is his loyal canine Shadow.

There is a side to Dr Harit Chaturvedi few know about because he is fiercely secretive about it - he is the invisible hand that often drops a cheque to help his patients who can't afford cancer treatment.

Visibly uncomfortable when asked to talk about his "invisible philanthropy" he mutters after much coaxing: "I do it on and off, even if it is just Rs 5, 000. I can go to any length to help poor patients but I don't like telling anyone about it, " says Chaturvedi. The chief of surgical oncology at Max Healthcare and president elect of the Indian Society of Oncology, he is a near-misfit in the world of private healthcare. The man's ultimate dream is to provide "economy class cancer care", and has plans ready in his mind "of setting up a 500-bed cancer hospital that would be the world's best. It would have over 200 cancer specialists. "

A veteran in his field, Chaturvedi specializes in breast and thoracic cancer surgery. But for all that he is a down-to-earth man whose idea of a happy Sunday is one spent lying on the grass in the sun, reading a book.

"I work almost half the 52 Sundays, " he says. Clocking 16-hour-long days on average, Chaturvedi's stress buster is his dog Shadow - an eight-year-old German Shepherd. "As soon as I ring the bell, this 55-kg dog starts running around the table with excitement. I feel refreshed just looking at him, " he says. He likes spending time in his library which has over 10, 000 books. A game of table tennis with his daughter or nieces is another favourite pastime.

But he has some pet peeves in the field of public health. It upsets him to see people chewing or smoking tobacco, knowing the health consequences of the habit. "Delay in diagnosis bothers me. Most cancers in India are tobacco-related and hence man-made, " says Chaturvedi who started an NGO called Core Cancer Foundation. "We used to hold anti-cancer workshops in schools to build anti-tobacco awareness. " Chaturvedi is now busy organizing the country's first Indian Cancer Congress in 2013.

He tells you the unbelievable story of how he saved the life of an 18-year-old Lucknow boy who was suffering from tracheal tumour, which was mistaken to be a simple asthma case for nearly two years. "He was in a very bad state when he was flown to Delhi. He hadn't eaten for over 10 days. " First the team scooped off the tumor and put the patient on a ventilator, which was followed by a series of complicated procedures. The boy is well now and leads a normal life, " he says.

Chaturvedi has a quirky side, though. He quits his job and moves to a new hospital every five years. "And it happens every July. " Complete coincidence, he says.

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