On the Bike and Giving ‘Back’

A surgeon is pedalling to gift a renewed life to the underprivileged with spine problems 
On the Bike and Giving ‘Back’

BENGALURU: Dr Arvind Bhateja loves pathways. Be it the complex neural pathways of the spinal cord or the arduous routes pedalled on the road. As a consultant neurosurgeon and spine surgeon at the Sita Bhateja Speciality Hospital, Bengaluru, he puts his mind into solving complex cases of spine disorders. And as a biker, he puts his heart traversing taxing tracks.His passion for cycling has in fact transformed the lives of over 150 people with spine disorders lending credence to the thought that when passion and expertise meet, do not just expect a masterpiece, expect miracles.

“We are celebrating the 50th year of Sita Bhateja Speciality Hospital this year, and when I joined the hospital in 2007 as a neurosurgeon, I did not have much work. Using the time, I started to develop a liking for running half marathons after accidentally glancing through an article in a magazine while vacationing in Bangkok,” recollects Dr Bhateja, who gained accolades throughout his student days with gold medals from M S Ramaiah Medical College, the Indian Society of Otolaryngologists (in ENT) and Bangalore University.

Dr Arvind Bhateja, Consultant neurosurgeon & spine surgeon
Dr Arvind Bhateja, Consultant neurosurgeon & spine surgeon

But having made running a marathon as his new year resolution in 2009, and following a scientific approach to pursue his new-found passion, he had to quit in just five weeks due to knee issues. “It was then that a doctor friend of mine reintroduced the bike to me. The technology of a bicycle had changed from when I was a kid, and I instantly fell in love with my mountain bike which I purchased on Valentine’s Day of 2009,” says Bhateja, who holds an MS in General Surgery and M Ch in Neurosurgery at NIMHANS. 

The same year, a spark of change ignited. Dr Bhateja’s friend, the co-founder of the Tour of Nilgiris (TFN), a long-distance cycling event held in December of every year, was looking for a medical partner. “I discussed with my team and we partnered with them for the event in 2009, and ever since, the hospital has been associated with them. We get a free rider’s slot, and in 2011, one of my cycling team members wanted to take the slot in return of giving some support to the hospital since it is a charitable trust,” he mentions.

That was an expergefaction for Dr Bhateja; a great potential that seemed small but could hold profundity. It took the form of a new approach towards helping people requiring spine surgery, but having no money. “So, from 2011, we have taken the approach every year, and at the moment, we are the biggest charities supporting TFN,” he notes.His thoughts on finding a way to contain the cost in a sustainable manner gave birth to the ‘Giving Back’ initiative, which has a structured model wherein the patient pays according to his or her capability and the rest is chipped in from the corpus fund. Bhateja says.

Dr Bhateja has participated in TFN in 2009, 2011 and 2016, riding 900 km every year covering three states in eight days. And last year, his initiative fetched `6 lakh. “From 2009, we were able to raise over `20 lakh and treat close to 150 people with spine issues,” he says and adds that people from the weaker section often delay surgery because they fear complete disability and think they would not be able to work any more. “They tend to live with pain while doing their daily labour and when it is too late, they come to us. At such a stage, the resources and expertise required is at a much higher scale, thus increasing the cost exponentially,” he states.

While nurturing his initiative to give back to the society through his cycling passion, Dr Bhateja is a regular racer with the Bangalore Biking Championship Series. He has also participated in races held in South East Asia and Italy and harbours an ambition to qualify for the World Masters. “It needs a different level of dedication, and I am still trying. Hopefully 2019 will be it,” he remarks.

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