The greatest achievement is to still be alive - and what’s more, living with purpose to focus on family and personal growth.
Sudhir Choudhrie knows better than most the meaning of survival against the odds. Choudhrie’s story is one of perseverance and survival. Born in India, he has become an internationally recognized figure, renowned for his business successes and philanthropic good will across the globe. Lesser known are the difficulties which he has faced throughout his life, with his, and his family’s health. After years of ill health, he had a heart transplant operation just eight months after the death of his beloved brother Rajiv, also from a chronic heart condition.
From My Heart is a candid memoir, where Sudhir Choudhrie tells the story of growing up in a privileged Indian family but knowing since early childhood that the heart he was born with would one day fail him. Along the way he faced numerous health problems, including a profoundly frightening period of temporary blindness, before finally being given a new heart by the world renowned surgeon Dr Oz.
But that was not an end to the ordeal. Sudhir began to experience terrifying visions in the wake of the operation and was forced to undergo further therapy to rid him of the horrors that haunted him, before he was finally able to resume his life, building relationships and embodying healthy living to make the most of his new start.
Throughout it all, Sudhir’s wife Anita was by his side, praying and fighting for her husband’s health, while his two sons Bhanu and Dhairya were forced to contemplate the premature loss of their father. This is the moving story of survival, hope and second chances, a story told from the heart.
The reader cannot help but be drawn into this heartfelt tale of love, loss and everything in between.
|Publisher:||John Blake Publishing, Limited|
|Product dimensions:||6.30(w) x 9.90(h) x 1.30(d)|
About the Author
Sudhir Choudhrie has a significant following in both the worlds of business and politics. Most notably in 2013 he was awarded the Asian Business Lifetime Achievement Award and in 2015 he was asked to be the Liberal Democrat’s Advisor in India.
Read an Excerpt
From My Heart
A Tale of Life, Love and Destiny
By Sudhir Choudhrie
John Blake Publishing LtdCopyright © 2016 Sudhir Choudhrie
All rights reserved.
A HEART FLIES IN
It was a blisteringly cold January morning in New York City in the last year of the last millennium and the sky had turned a shade of early morning frozen blue, icy and pitiless, mirroring the frozen expanse of the city below. My wife Anita, exhausted after more than a week of sleepless nights but knowing that matters were finally to be resolved one way or another, stood in the atrium of Columbia University Medical Centre. In the distance, through the huge glass windows, she could see a tiny speck on the horizon. As she watched, it grew bigger and bigger until it became obvious it was a helicopter, the rotors growing and growing in size as it neared the hospital below.
Placed as she was in the soundproof enclosure, Anita couldn't hear the helicopter but she could see it as it neared and she knew exactly what cargo it was carrying: a heart. My heart. I do not to this day know where the heart came from or from whom, but lying elsewhere in the hospital that morning I too knew that my heart was approaching and I knew that this operation was make or break. After a lifetime of health problems, mainly prompted by a leaky valve in my heart that had been discovered when I was a child, the heart I was born with was no longer fit for purpose. After months of increasing ill-health, culminating in a medical collapse several weeks previously, my old heart had all but given up. The transplant, which had been predicted by the doctors for years now, was finally about to take place and my life now hung in the balance. And, at the eleventh hour, a replacement had been found.
Down in the depths of the hospital, just before I was rushed into the operating theatre where I was to receive my new heart, I had a conversation with my elder son Bhanu. He was then just twenty-one, still at college and was having to take on more responsibility than would otherwise have been the case at that tender age. As Bhanu remembers it, while Anita was watching life approaching the hospital from above, down below, we were talking about death. My death. Although I was determined that I would survive the forthcoming operation – as I had been throughout previous health scares in my life – it was a very high-risk procedure, with the danger that my body could reject the heart at any moment. This meant I had to talk to my son about what would happen to my family and the business I had spent decades building up with my beloved late brother Rajiv if I didn't make it through. 'It was a very difficult conversation,' Bhanu recalled years later. 'My father told me that he was going in to surgery, but he didn't know if he was coming out. He began to recount what was essentially his will in one of the most difficult and emotional conversations I have ever had.' Bhanu has a calm disposition and demeanour but even now, sixteen years on, it is a memory that still causes him a great deal of pain.
Most of my immediate family was there in Columbia: Anita, Bhanu, my mother Amrit and my cousin Sumant. My younger son Dhairya, who was still at school, remained in India, as did my nephew Dhruv, Rajiv's son, who was also now heavily involved in the family business. He too was waiting anxiously for developments: he had not been able to fly out to New York with us because someone needed to stay in Delhi to oversee the running of the company and the only possible candidate was him. But his concern was all the greater, as was that of the rest of the family, because by a dreadful coincidence, I had lost my very much beloved brother Rajiv less than a year earlier. He had also been experiencing heart problems and had also been waiting for a new heart. It was a devastating blow for me and all the family. My brother and I had been extremely close throughout my entire life – I was two years his junior but my daughter-in-law Simrin, Bhanu's wife, describes us as being 'akin to identical twins' – and his loss brought on an all-consuming grief to us all. He had been treated at Columbia, too, and I was told afterwards that the team, headed by the world-famous cardiothoracic surgeon Dr Mehmet Oz, who was about to operate on me, felt that they had lost one member of my family and were thus doubly determined to save his brother. But my family had been very badly affected by Rajiv's passing only a year earlier and it compounded the sense of helplessness and uncertainty that they all felt as my own operation approached.
I had been aware of the fact that I had health issues since I was a young child when, after a routine medical inspection for insurance purposes, it emerged that my heart had a leaky valve. Back then in India there was nothing we could do about it – this was the 1950s – but the family believed, accurately as it turned out, that one day the medical technology would exist that would provide the treatment I would come to need, although the idea of a heart being transplanted from one body into another would have been almost inconceivable back then. In fact, in many ways it still was unusual when it happened. I was at Columbia because it offered the best medical facilities in the world, but it is also true that the procedure could still not have been carried out in India at that time. Most people living on the sub-continent would have been astounded if they knew such a procedure could even take place.
But it was now essential. During the intervening years after that early childhood prognosis, I suffered from many more health problems, which I will detail later in this book, including an operation to replace the faulty valve. But it had become increasingly clear that I was going to need a full heart transplant and the crisis, when it happened, happened fast.
In December 1998, eight months after Rajiv's death, my health began to deteriorate very quickly, something Anita became aware of faster than I did myself. 'You had had a cough for six months and you couldn't get rid of it,' she recalls now. 'I was also increasingly aware that you were having a problem with water retention. You were still travelling a great deal but I could tell from your gait and your mannerisms that problems were growing. That December it got considerably worse and as the New Year approached I insisted that you see a doctor in New Delhi. He gave you a diuretic to reduce the extra fluid in the body, put you on medication and asked you to stay in hospital. You stayed just one night and then wanted to leave. I took you home and made sure you were comfortable, but then I returned on my own to the hospital, because I had heard the doctor use the phrase "heart failure". I went back to the doctor and asked, "What do you mean?"' Although Anita didn't say much to me about it at the time, I subsequently learned that she had become increasingly concerned for months and had quietly set about educating herself as to the nature of my condition and what would one day have to be done. And now that day was upon us.
In the meantime I could increasingly see something was wrong: quite apart from physical weakness, water was pouring out of my body, mainly through the soles of my feet. I was becoming more and more bloated – a direct result of my kidneys not functioning properly – and my general physical condition was worsening fast. The loss of Rajiv compounded all of this. Throughout my entire life I had had my brother to turn to in times of crisis both for advice and support, but now, when my heart was finally giving out on me, my brother wasn't there. My heart had been broken in more ways than one.
I had of course long been aware that one day I might need a transplant, but the normal human reaction to such a situation is not to think about it, not to believe it will ever actually happen, to put it out of your head by saying that it's something that might happen five years down the line. Now, however, it was becoming a reality, something I had to face and which could be postponed no longer. When the crunch came, I really was extremely ill and even though my heart was failing and I felt the need to talk to Bhanu about the future, at no point did I actually think I was really going to die. I studied astrology in my youth and I didn't believe that this was to be my destiny or my fate and on top of that I have been blessed with a very positive personality, always able to look to the future and determined to make the best of a bad situation. But as it became even clearer that something was very wrong, both my sons took it very hard. I could tell they were suffering but at that point there was no way of alleviating it. Bhanu was, as I previously mentioned, at college and Dhairya, not much older than a child, was still at school. Both were forced to witness a very quick physical deterioration in their father – something any child of any age would find difficult to deal with – and their pain was not diluted by our knowledge that one day this day would come.
After that initial appointment, Anita didn't tell me about the doctor's prognosis but she realised the extent to which I was seriously ill and started making the arrangements to fly to New York to see the specialists who had treated Rajiv. A doctor named Parvez Ahmed had been visiting from New York, and so we asked him if he would make the journey with us. In the meantime the state of my health was becoming quite critical and so the family assembled with due speed; with my sons and mother, we made arrangements to travel to New York via the UK.
January in New Delhi is a time of the year when the city is famous for its mists and fog. Flights are regularly delayed because the weather is absolutely dreadful, and this did indeed happen, necessitating a stay at a hotel airport, but we finally got on a BA flight to London. Time was becoming of the essence.
My body was continuing to swell because my kidneys weren't working properly and were unable to process any food or liquid. My doctor too was quite shocked when he saw the full extent of my problems with water retention because, throughout that gruesome journey, water continued to pour from the soles of my feet. Dr Ahmed was controlling my fluid intake throughout the various flights, but by this time I didn't feel like eating or drinking anything anyway and was barely aware of what was going on around me. It was becoming a blur, with the flight taking on the quality of a nightmare. The rest of the family was increasingly restive and anxious, with the tension building and the uncertainty and fear taking their toll. On the one hand this was a period of intense drama; on the other I was almost unaware of what was happening around me as the plane flew on, taking me to meet my destiny on the other side of the world.
After an overnight stay in London, we flew on to New York. Anita had arranged with the New York Medical Center to send an ambulance to the airport when we landed on 9 January, in the middle of the freezing New York winter – not that I was up to noticing the weather. I had previously been treated at that hospital and they took me straight to their ICU, where various blood tests were taken. This was increasingly difficult: I had become so bloated that they almost had to cut into the skin to make the incision, but it had to be done. The fact that it was a far more traumatic procedure than a normal blood test only served to highlight the horror of the whole situation. From there I was taken to Columbia and the wait began to find a suitable heart.
By this time, as I said, I was all but unaware of what was going on around me, but my family knew exactly what was happening. There was nothing any of us could do except wait for a heart. And it was taking a terrible toll. Both of my sons have related how they felt a terrible sense of powerlessness as I lay in hospital, barely conscious or able to move, although of course Dhairya was not on hand to witness it in person, as he was thousands of miles away in Delhi. 'The overriding feeling was of complete helplessness,' Bhanu recalls now. 'You can have everything material in life but at that point nothing mattered except for a team of doctors who have to make the forthcoming surgery successful. Nothing can prepare you for such a feeling and such a situation, when you see the person before you, your own father, essentially dying. It was the most emotional and saddest point in my life. What made it even worse was that you were facing the unknown but what you did know was what had happened the previous year, namely that his brother Rajiv, my uncle, had been in an extremely similar situation and we all knew how that had ended. It was a horrible, awful experience, but the one thing you could say about it was that it ultimately brought us all closer together.'
But still there was nothing we could do except wait for a suitable heart. Bhanu dealt with the uncertainty and anxiety by remaining active, dividing his time between our hotel and the hospital where he would constantly be checking with the doctors when they would be able to perform the surgery. Other family members came in to find out how it was all going, and there were frequent phone calls to Dhairya to keep him up to date with what was happening.
The situation was now even worse. The initial hope that the problem revolved around my replaced valve had collapsed entirely, which is why I needed to be transferred to Columbia, where I critically needed a heart. Bhanu and Sumant took up residence outside the office of Dr Donna Mancini, who had treated Rajiv and who was soon to be looking after me, to demand to know when I would be admitted prior to being assessed for the transplant list. At first no bed was available but everyone, including Dr Mancini, persisted in searching and I was shortly afterwards admitted. Now we just needed to be assessed and put on the list for my new heart.
But Anita, sensing my need for her despite the fact that I was barely conscious, never left Columbia during that interminable wait. She lived off sandwiches in the canteen and because there were no chairs in Intensive Care, perfected the art of standing by my bed for hours on end by shifting her weight from one foot to the other. She became like a bird, she says, able to take quick naps throughout the day, before snapping back to becoming fully alert. Eventually she was allowed a bed on the twelfth floor, where a few rooms were put aside for the family of critical patients from abroad and where Bhanu would also stay. The doctors were still running a battery of tests and I was sliding in and out of consciousness, and while I faintly recall an intense thirst, I was not allowed to drink anything. All that the doctors would agree to was a touch of ice on the mouth or a very tiny sip.
During that period of waiting, my family was interviewed in order to find out, essentially, whether I was a suitable candidate for a heart. For obvious reasons, good, healthy hearts do not often become available and when they do, doctors have to make a case as to why their patient, rather than anyone else's, should be the recipient. So the family were asked about everything: did I smoke or drink, to which the answer to both was 'no'; did I take drugs ('no'); was I the sole earner, that last question being to ascertain the importance of my role in the family. We were even asked where we lived. Anita had to go in front of a panel of doctors to answer all these questions and it quickly became clear that to be worthy of a new heart, you had to be on a kind of A-list to qualify.
The doctors didn't want patients who smoked or drank as their new heart would deteriorate quickly and deprive someone else, someone who might have gone on to have a better quality of life if they were treated, of a new chance of life. But this created a new layer of tensions all of its own and as with a great deal else at that time, Anita bore the brunt of the pressure. 'For me, the American system when it comes to transplants was completely new,' Anita recalls now. 'It made me so apprehensive and nervous in case I made an error or a mistake which meant Sudhir would not be taken on as a patient to have this operation.'
Because I was in a state of semi-consciousness, Anita recalls this period better than I do. And despite the worry and the strain, like me, she too had a very strong sense that I was going to survive the ordeal. 'I felt very strongly that Sudhir's destiny was to survive this crisis, but very unusually for him he let me take charge of everything at that point,' she says. 'I also knew that the doctors had never before done an operation on a patient with an artificial valve, as Sudhir had, and that the success rate for these types of operations generally was low. But I was sure he would survive. On the crucial day of the decision making, Dr Oz came into the room to see Sudhir and found him surrounded by his family – his wife, his mother and his son. Later he told us that when he saw us there, it took him back to his own family in his native Turkey. He could see how important this man was for all of us and there and then determined that he would do something.'
Excerpted from From My Heart by Sudhir Choudhrie. Copyright © 2016 Sudhir Choudhrie. Excerpted by permission of John Blake Publishing Ltd.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Chapter 1 A Heart Flies In 1
Chapter 2 A Gilded Childhood 17
Chapter 3 Brotherhood 33
Chapter 4 I Had Forgotten How Beautiful Anita Is 49
Chapter 5 The Heart Begins to Break 65
Chapter 6 My Brother, Rajiv 79
Chapter 7 The Heart of the Matter 95
Chapter 8 A New Heart Awakes 113
Chapter 9 Heart Ache 131
Chapter 10 Bad Dreams 149
Chapter 11 Come Fly With Me 165
Chapter 12 Life, Actually 183
Chapter 13 Father to a Company 199
Chapter 14 To Give is Greater Than to Receive 205
Chapter 15 A Heart's Desire 219
Dr Donna Mancint's Speech - Tenth Anniversary of Sudhir's Transplant 231
Sudhir Choudhrie Professorship of Cardiology Lecture by Dr. Oz 239