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This doctor saved the life of an Iraqi boy with 8 limbs

Dr. Abhishek, an alumnus of Apeejay Panchsheel Park and Senior Consultant Pediatric Surgery, Max Super Speciality Hospital, Patparganj, said there’s nothing more rewarding than saving lives



Dr. Abhishek has more than 18 years’ of experience in Pediatric Surgery. In a candid interview, Dr. Abhishek described how he performed the critical surgery on the seven-month-old baby from Iraq, gave valuable advice to students, bust common pediatric myths, and more. Edited excerpts:

It must have been a complicated procedure to treat the baby with 8 limbs. Tell us about it.

The surgery was extremely complicated. The seven-month-old baby from Iraq was suffering from polymelia — a rare birth defect in which an affected individual has more than the usual number of limbs. He had eight limbs and was brought to the hospital in a very critical condition by his father who is himself a doctor. Karam’s was a case of partially-absorbed conjoined twins, where a partly-developed conjoined twin’s hands were fused to Karam’s ribs, which protruded from his stomach, while the twin’s legs got fused to Karam’s hips. The exact cause of this congenital anomaly is unknown, however it is thought to be associated with genetic factors. This was not a kind of surgery where you can follow a protocol. We brainstormed and conducted a battery of tests to devise a way to successfully perform the surgery.  The first stage of the surgery included removal of all the limbs and duplicated intestine. The second stage involved repairing the abdominal wall and the parent limb of the child. The operation was done in 2017 and since then Karam has undergone three more surgeries. His final surgery will take place soon and then he will be fine.

What is the best part of being a doctor?

There’s nothing more rewarding than saving lives. Knowing you’re helping people and saving lives is the most gratifying aspect of the job. I am the first doctor in my family and to achieve this distinction I had to burn the midnight oil. You need to have passion and unbridled patience to get into this profession. I started my medical education in 1994 and finished my specialisation in 2010.  Even now I have to continually update my knowledge and skills. The medical profession requires practitioners to be lifelong learners. 

What are common medical myths about children’s health?

There’s a tendency to blame mothers for birth defects. However, most causes of birth defects are unknown. Secondly, it is believed that teething (the process where an infant’s teeth erupt through the gums) causes fever or diarrhea. As kids begin teething, their gums swell and they might drool more and want to chew on things. This can cause infection which can lead to fever. Third myth is related to extended breastfeeding. According to the National Neonatology Forum exclusive breastfeeding till 6 months is extremely important.  However, by the time your baby is 7 or 8 months old, he/she can eat a variety of foods. Exclusive breastfeeding for a prolonged period may lead to anemia (also referred to as low haemoglobin) in babies. Lastly, many parents believe that baby walkers help babies learn to walk faster. This is not true. In fact, walkers can cause a lot of injuries and can spoil the baby’s gait. Babies tend to use their toes when they are in a walker and once out of the walker, they often want to keep using their toes, which is not how babies usually learn to walk.

What’s your advice to students?

Always listen to your teachers as they are critical to your education and moral values. My teachers at Apeejay Panchsheel Park have played a key role in shaping my personality and always showing me the right path. Whatever little I have achieved in life I owe it to my teachers. I am still in touch with them. Importantly, as we are hit by the 3rd wave of Covid, I request every student to stay at home and follow Covid-appropriate behaviour. Also, get vaccinated if you are eligible. 

Dheeraj Sharma is Asst. Editor (Newsroom). He covers events, webinars, conducts interviews and brings you exciting news snippets. He has over 10 years' of experience in prominent media organizations. He takes pleasure in the small things in life and believes a healthy work-life balance is key to happiness. You can reach him at [email protected]

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