Author: ramg

Launching HSCT for Multiple Sclerosis at BLK Super Speciality Hospital, New Delhi

It has been close to six years since I had a rebirth, when my body was literally rebooted. Six years since I shrugged off the debilitating clutches of a rare and incurable autoimmune disorder. Today, I am glad to say that I have managed to facilitate the process that might bring in a cure for hundreds of Multiple Sclerosis patients in India who have lost hope; and hopefully, eventually to bringing an effective treatment to patients suffering from other autoimmune disorders such as CIDP, Lupus, Systemic Sclerosis, Rheumatoid Arthritis etc.

You might have already read my blog post on how I was derailed by a crippling autoimmune disorder, CIDP (Chronic Inflammatory Demyelinating Polyneuropathy) at the height of my extremely successful career. It was a clinical trial conducted by Dr Richard Burt, head of immunology at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, Chicago that gave me my life back. The treatment involved a Haematopoietic Stem Cell Transplant (HSCT) to regenerate the immune system after destroying it using Chemo, Rituximab, ATG etc. It gave me a new lease of life. My body finally stopped attacking itself.

It also helped me reinvent my life as a bestselling author, motivational speaker, startup co-founder and science editor. Most importantly, I discovered that when one goes through extraordinary difficulties in life, one becomes very compassionate. I became obsessed with helping others – especially people suffering from physical or mental challenges or children or youth who require counselling or motivation. I started seeking out people whom I can support. Today I am the India liaison for the GBS/CIDP foundation and every week, I come across two to three people who need support. I help them to the best of my abilities. But my overriding dream was to be able to convince some hospital in India to adopt Dr Burt’s HSCT treatment in India, so that it can be accessible to thousands of patients. For the last five years, I have been reaching out to various hospitals in the country to adopt this treatment. Unfortunately, time and again, I came up against blank walls. Not one to be easily discouraged, I continued my search. I would talk about my dream during my motivational talks in corporates, hoping that someone in the audience would have some hospital contacts. Finally, when I was addressing a global leadership team of Dr Reddy’s Laboratory, I hit gold. Rebu Ninan, one of the employees, promised to use his contacts to connect me to various hospitals. He was true to his words and within a few months, connected me to Dr Dharma Chaudhary, the head of Haematology at BLK Super Speciality Hospital in Delhi. I was delighted to find out that Dr Dharma was keen on rolling out the treatment for MS. He also wanted to do it the best way possible. He was happy to take the support of Dr Burt to ensure that his time tested protocol and the experience Dr Burt had garnered treating hundreds of patients was utilised for launching the treatment in India.

Yesterday, after months of email and telephonic discussions half way across the globe, we had the pleasure of having Dr Richard Burt in Delhi, addressing some of the top neurologists, haematologists and other doctors in Delhi. The treatment is now officially on for MS. Dr Burt’s data indicates that the treatment reverses the condition in over 80% of RRMS patients. This will bring succour to hundreds of patients who have otherwise lost hope. I also hope this creates a domino effect where many more hospitals adopt the treatment. After that, it will only be a matter of time before these hospitals start similar treatments for Lupus, CIDP, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Systemic Sclerosis, Scleroderma etc. I have helped set in motion a tide of hope that will spread wings as time goes.

Dr Burt acknowledging my contribution

Dr Burt acknowledging my contribution

My own patient's perspective

My own patient’s perspective

Dr Burt and I with our biggest supports, our wives. Dr Shalina Gupta-Burt and Jayashri Ramamurti

Dr Burt and I with our biggest supports, our wives. Dr Shalina Gupta-Burt and Jayashri Ramamurti

I am a firm believer that every downturn can be converted into an opportunity and eventually into a success. In this case, surely my downturn seems to have transformed into a great success.

Those interested in understanding more on the treatment can contact me on my mail ID ramgopal.vallath@gmail.com. Please share this post so that it reaches as many people as possible. For a more detailed description of my disorder and the treatment and how I managed to reinvent my life, please read my book From Ouch to Oops

One month has passed since my father left us. The last three months- two months of his illness and then one month after his departure- have been the toughest in my life: and believe me, I have faced way more than my share of tough situations in life.

It is only when a parent passes away, that you realise that you have just lost the most precious possession you ever had. The deep void that settles in your life is unlike anything you ever experience, the grief- heart rending. Because after all, it is to your parents that you owe everything in life – including your life itself. It is they who teach you everything – starting with the first steps you take, to the first words you utter, to every value and belief that you posses. It is to them you owe every morsel of food you eat and the education that made you someone.

My mind has been reliving every wonderful moment with my father – the stories that he told, painstakingly ensuring that I understood and internalised the morals and messages he couched in them; the innumerable hours we (the four of us) spent together repairing our old second-hand car, then painting it ourselves, building a car shed ourselves; creating working science models for our school projects- all these demonstrating that every problem can be solved and also inculcating problem solving skills in me; the many times I accompanied him to his workplaces and watched in wonder how a great leader handles his people; the many hours he spent recounting to me exactly what is happening in his work, imparting 35 years of extra professional experience to me and also teaching me how to convert every job into a fun challenge and every uncertainty into an opportunity.

As I grew up to be an adult, I was pleasantly surprised when the knowledge transfer and sometimes value-transfer became both ways- that he would actually seek my advice on professional matters and sometimes change his own deep rooted beliefs because he saw merit in my arguments pointing out fallacies in his belief. Of course, this was another lesson to me that one should always be open to learning, however painful and contradictory to one’s existing beliefs the lessons are, and whoever the lesson might come from. And then came a time when, to my delight, every time I told him how much he inspired me, he would tell me in turn how much I inspired him.

I think I am a dutiful son. More importantly, I love my parents unconditionally and wholeheartedly: and I never hesitated from telling them this, time and again. Almost every day, I would spend at least half an hour to one hour speaking to my parents on the phone. I made it a point to tell each of them how much they meant to me, and how much I loved them- each and every day.

But let me tell you, this is not nearly enough to stop the immense feeling of regret and guilt when a parent actually takes leave. My heart is filled with thoughts of how much more I could have told him, how much more time I could have spent with him and what all I could have done to postpone my father’s departure. And this is me – a person who has mastered the art of never thinking of what could have been. I lie awake at night, talking to my father, telling him how much I love him. I have discovered that when it comes to powerful emotions, scientific rationality flies out of the window and I find myself hoping against hope that my father’s spirit can hear me. When I speak to my brother, I know that he is going through the exact same feelings. But both of us are united in one more way – we will move heaven and earth to ensure that we will take the greatest care of that most precious asset that my father has left in our care – our mother.

Theirs was a 53 year long romance: a romance filled with love and respect, of giving and sharing, and of taking every step together. The next generation in me would sometime baulk at the division of duties in their marriage and also how much my father overprotected my mother from day to management of life. She still cannot write a cheque; operate an ATM; or even cross the road herself. But deep down inside, I know that they had reached their own unique equilibrium, one of perfect harmony and love. Neither of them would go out anywhere on their own, neither of them had a friend who was not a shared friend; neither of them would eat a meal on their own or watch a TV serial on their own. If they went out to a restaurant, they would always share a dish. If that was not enough, they would order a second dish and share that too.

So now when I look at my mother and see how she is able to cope with her grief with so much dignity and courage, my heart swells with pride, at the same time it quakes with deep grief. For I know that her grief must be equal to mine amplified infinite times. I grieve as much for her grief as for the loss of my father.

In my quest for a balm to assuage my grief, I have hit upon a thought that I would like to share. Our parents will always live within us. Genetically, it is their exact set of DNA that exists in us- nothing more, nothing less. And more importantly, every personality, trait and value we have is a result of what we have learned by observing our parents. So while we mourn their loss, we can also focus on nurturing those values, polishing them up and passing them down to the next generation.

To all my friends whose parents are alive, my humble request is this – like me, each of you must be having a unique relationship with your parents: speak to them today, right now, and tell them just how much you love them and how much you appreciate everything they have done for you. Then repeat that action every single day of your life. You might be able to minimise your regret.

To read more about my father and his influence in my life, read my humorous, yet inspiring autobiography From Ouch to Oops

I just spent two traumatic weeks in Rajagiri hospital in Cochin. For a change, this time I was not the chief guest of the proceedings. It was my dad who was admitted there with a cardiac failure. He was brought there with a urinary tract infection; but on examining him, his doctor had immediately placed him in the ICU.

I am very very close to my parents. My father has been an inspiration for me all my life, having instilled in me love for science through many an experiment conducted at home and also having ignited my sense of humour by reading out and translating P G Wodehouse stories into Malayalam for me at a very young age. It was from him that I learned the importance of tenacity and people management through relationship building. I had learned the art of converting every downturn into a success by observing him. He was always a larger-than-life figure for me.

My mother, on the other hand, is the epitome of love. With her, I share an amazingly easy relationship. As a sickly child when I spent many nights struggling for breath, it was she who kept vigil all night, warming my chest with hot towels and cleaning me up – sometimes a dozen times in 24 hours- after bouts of vomiting.

Over the last few years, I realised that the best way to keep them happy is by calling them every single day and speaking to them at length, sharing in their daily lives. I would call them every day at around 8.30 and speak to them till 9.15. With my dad, I would discuss my Speaking Assignments, my science magazine, my plans for touching a million lives positively, about our startup company etc. With my mom, it is a completely different story. We would talk such inane stuff and end up laughing non-stop for about 20-25 minutes. Thus, through that call, I end up getting inspired, getting enveloped in love, getting my daily dose of advise and also lightening my heart.

So when dad went through a near fatal crisis, it was a huge shock. But I was lucky that the flexibility in all my different activities allowed me time to spend 12 days in the hospital along with mom, looking after dad – meeting him twice a day in the ICU for the first 5 days, and motivating him; and once he got into the room, feeding him, pushing him to start walking, helping take him to the bathroom, helping clean him etc.

I was incredibly lucky that during these 12 days, I spent so much time with my mom (Amma) and got a chance to observe her closely – maybe for the first time after I became an adult. And I was totally amazed.

To me, hitherto she had appeared to be fairly scatter brained and always dependant on my father for taking any decision and even for any day-to-day activity. For instance, she didn’t know how to operate a bank account, how to draw money from an ATM, how to use a credit card or even how to cross a road. So protected was she by her husband – well meaning and obviously from a different era and mind-set.

So I had expected Amma to be in pieces when dad was hospitalised. Especially on day 3 when the doctor informed us that dad had taken a turn for the worse and anything could happen. Over the years, going through many downturns myself, had taught me how to handle tough situations- by keeping the mind firmly on the solution and not on the problem. Even then, I couldn’t help but dwell on the worst possible outcome and almost ended up in tears. I thought Amma would break down completely.

But she completely surprised me. Even though she understood the full import of what was happening, she bounced back really fast. I realised that throughout the ordeal, she was tapping the biggest strength that she ever had – love and compassion.

Every single time she stepped out of the rom, she would make a bunch of friends – from the nurses who took care of our floor, to the sweepers and cleaners to the security guard to the lift operator to the cafeteria server, each and every person would be chatted up, creating an envelope of warmth everywhere she went. By day two, all of them would be, in turn, smiling at her and asking after her and dad’s health. She must have made about 25-30 friends in those 12 days. With her, it was not a superficial act. She felt deep compassion for each of them. I realised that she never felt alone in the world. She had a huge family everywhere she went.

For me, who deliver talks on creating positivity and happiness, this was not only an affirmation and proof of the efficacy of my messaging, it was also a lesson in how to take it to the next level. Thus, at the age of 73, my mother taught a valuable lesson in motivation to me, a 48 year old, successful motivational speaker and compulsive gyan-giver : the lesson that deep compassion and acts of kindness always keeps the giver happy and positive.

I guess it is never too late to learn, if you follow the time tested scientific method of observation, collection of data, hypothesis, experiment and proof. You can also learn from anyone and any incident if you keep your eyes and mind wide open.

Dear Prime Minister,

As I sat glued to the TV on the night of 8th November, I was thrilled. Here is a bold decision taken by a bold leader.

To tell you the truth, I am not a fan of your party or the extended so called Sangh Parivar. During the elections, I knew the Congress party was corrupt, useless and blindly following the Gandhis. However, your and your party’s track record on the treatment meted out to minorities was a bigger danger to our country than uselessness and corruption in my opinion. So I made it a point to become one of the millions of likeminded people who vigorously hurled social media missiles at you.

But, the day you were elected, you became my Prime Minister, legitimately elected by the people of India and I decided to suspend judgement and give you my support. I must say that overall, the direction seemed to be positive and focused on development. My biggest concern has been that you have really made no effort to condemn, rebuke or rein in the fringe elements that went berserk on those allegedly consuming beef. Your ‘supporters’ also seemed to brook no opposition to you whatsoever, however much this opposition was issue based. To them, you seemed like the tenth avatar of Vishnu, who could do no wrong and any criticism to you was blasphemy. They also started fuelling a brand of hypernationalism which I thought would be a danger to the country in the long run. When the surgical strike happened, I was proud and delighted. Here is a strong prime minister, finally showing the enemies what we are capable of doing.

And then the demonetization happened. I called up my father and a few of my friends to exclaim what a great move this was. You see, I have never made a single rupee in black and have meticulously paid tax on every rupee I earned. When I see those who make much more than me avoid paying any tax, my blood used to boil. I know that almost the entire middle class feel this way and instantly you became a rock star.

However, the details started unfurling only over the next few days. I was aghast. I have handled many a complex project in my career. The one thing that we always try to do before we launch a new project or process is do a comprehensive FMEA (Failure Mode Effects Analysis). We try and think through all the potential pitfalls of a new process or project and devise ways to counter each of them or avoid them. What you were launching was a million times more complex than any project I have done. Now I realise the most basic pitfalls have not been identified let alone thought through. You have led our countrymen into a most perilous and hazardous journey with your eyes and ears firmly closed.

To take a step back, I believe you had these following reasons for the demonetization in order of priority

  1. To reduce the budget deficit by about 3-5 lac crores so that you have enough budget balance to give huge sops to the lower economic strata to be able to swing the next election. Also to have enough money to follow your development agenda (you and the RBI governor – both smart Gujaratis figured this out. I mean it as a compliment to your sharp economic acumen)
  1. To project the image of a strong leader who adheres to his election promise. This move would make you a god among the middle class.
  1. To completely stymie the opposition parties just before some crucial state elections, while your party had ample advance warning.
  1. To crush the terrorists and the troublemakers in Kashmir by choking off their funding.
  1. To actually impact the black money being hoarded.

I believe you would definitely achieve 4. and to some extent 5. I am sure you have already achieved 2. and 3. I guess where you went wrong was that you had so much belief in your own infallibility that you decided you don’t need anyone to advice you. I am saying this, because if a larger set of people had spent enough time in thinking through the pitfalls, many of the disasters we have witnessed over the last ten days wouldn’t have been there. It was your job to know the following…

  1. 40% of ATMs were/are non-functional. What stopped you from launching a drive 6 months back to get all ATMs up and running under the guise of some initiative? The pressure would have been half of what it is today.
  2. There aren’t nearly, nearly, nearly enough Rs.100 notes to go around. What stopped you from instructing RBI to suck out all Rs.500 notes from the market and replacing with Rs.100 notes over the last 6 months? 6 lac crores is the Rs.500 value in circulation. Rs.1 lac crore being pulled out every month may not have been very noticeable. (I know my friends who are devoted to you will immediately say- but this was not planned 6 months back- it was only planned last month. I hope that is not true and that this humongous exercise was not launched as a knee jerk action)
  3. The 2000 and new 500 rupee notes are of a different size and hence need reconfiguration of 200,000 ATMs – a task that will take a minimum of 15 days. How on earth did we miss that?
  4. 50% of the villages in the country don’t even have a post office, let alone ATMs or banks – imagine the number of man-days wasted and the hardship for the people of these far-flung locations. Again, 6 months was enough to start an initiative such as a mobile bank or bank outleach.
  5. It is wedding season and people have no money to get married
  6. It is crop season and farmers have no money to buy seeds
  7. It would take two weeks to get out the first set of new 500s out
  8. Not everyone knows Hindi and not everyone has the time to watch your speeches. Did you not realize that many of the poor would start panicking, not fully understanding what is happening and giving off their hard earned money at huge discounts to the sharks? Did you think of reading out FAQs and dos and don’ts in every language in every possible medium to reach at least 95% of the population? TV, Radio, loudspeaker announcements in jeeps in remote villages? (You do this for elections to save your seats. Why not for saving the common man?)

I can almost see my friends who are your devotees jumping up to defend you – the whole idea was to have absolute secrecy and thus it was not shared with or discussed with others. Really? You took this massive national make-or-break decision without discussing this with a set of advisors who should have done their number crunching and shown you how much hardship the common man would go through? You thought you were uniquely qualified to make this decision for the nation based on your gut and the nods from 2-3 of your yes-men? If that was the case, and absolute secrecy from even those who could give you balanced advice was necessary to launch the scheme, you should not have done it. No man, however amazingly intelligent he is, should take a decision of this magnitude on his own.

So today, thanks to your overconfidence and over-reliance on your smartness, the country is going through the biggest crisis it has faced after the partition. It is by no means anywhere near over yet.

Oh, you have done a great job in milking the situation to its utmost. Playing the ‘solidarity with the soldiers who are dying at the LOC’ card, turning up the emotional quotient by breaking into tears, dragging your poor mom to a bank for a photo op etc.

But what I would have expected you to do, like a man with a 56” chest is to face the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha and engage with the other parties. Except Mamata, most of them actually gave a grudging approval to the plan on day 1 and 2, till they realised, like me, that there has been hardly any thinking through.

Now that the die is cast and we are up to our necks in the brown stuff, there is only one thing to do- grit our teeth and see the damn thing through. A continuous status update from you to the nation every day would be helpful- like a war room communication. Keep the people engaged and informed. (like for example on when the Rs.500 notes are reaching)

Lastly, I hope the move succeeds beyond even your wildest imagination and with minimum casualties. Because we Indians deserve a break. And remember, FMEA is a time-tested tool. It will ensure that personal biases and limited knowledge is not what drives important decisions, but collective wisdom of a strong core team. Do use it next time when you want to implement one of your creative ideas. And I say this without a trace of sarcasm.

Image credit armrest
I believe there are about 40 million people on earth who are descended from Genghis Khan. Every time I have to take an early morning flight, I become convinced that I am one of them. The ferocity with which I want to kick the daylights out of every individual who crosses my path can come only from such an exalted lineage. From the cab driver who gets grunted at; to the fellow passengers in the queue ahead at security who I dream of murdering slowly in their sleep; to the policeman who gets a dirty glare for feeling my butt, all human beings are equally abhorred during these traumatic periods.

However, none gets the brunt of my ire as much as the Despicable Encroacher of the Arm Rest (hereinafter referred to as DEAR). It is he who breaks the sacred gentleman’s unsaid agreement of sharing the armrest fairly and squarely. Like the constitution of the United Kingdom that is unwritten, but robust thanks to centuries of legal precedents, the ‘Covenant of the Economy Class Armrests’ states that the ones with longer arms should stretch their arms out and rest their elbows lightly on the farther half of the armrest while the ones with shorter arms have to snuggle their elbows in closer to the seat. While doing this, all precaution must be taken by both parties to ensure that contact between the two is minimised.

All fine so far. Almost all civilised human beings follow this. However, the DEAR is not civilised by any stretch of imagination. He sits upon the middle seat as if it were the iron throne of the Seven Kingdoms. With his left elbow, he takes full control over the entire territory of his left armrest and with his right elbow, he actually pushes out the unobtrusively placed elbow of the right side passenger by employing the sinister tactic of placing his elbow right at the edge and then proceeding to viciously shove out the co-passengers elbow. Then he looks blankly ahead and picks his nose in a nonchalant fashion.

It was two weeks back that I came across the worst of DEARs. As, prescribed by Murphy’s law, the passengers in the middle and window seats made their appearance well after I (the aisle-seater) had sat down. Being a courteous and well brought-up individual (even though the heir of Genghis), I politely got up and let DEAR and his wife move in. I gave them a full 30 seconds to settle down before plonking down. I sat back, heaved a sigh of contentment and placed the right elbow on the right armrest. Then I slowly started the process of snuggling my left elbow unobtrusively to the rearmost point of the left armrest, preparing the deploy the standard operating procedure of sliding it in further and further till it encountered human flesh. And then… I sat bolt upright!!

The blighter, who was a clear six inches taller than me -and hence possessing longer arms – had occupied the territory. I shook my head in exasperation. Another example that civilisation was falling apart. Resigned to my fate of having to lean my elbows far out – and thereby permanently damaging my arm sockets – I moved my elbow to the farthest reaches of the armrest and slowly lowered it. (civilised behaviour did not permit me to look to my left. Looking directly at the co-passenger is early bad taste.) As my elbow descended, I froze!!

My elbow had yet again encountered human flesh. It struck me with sickening clarity that I was sitting next to a DEAR.

Now I had two options.

  1. To jerk my elbow furiously and dislodge his elbow


  1. Bide my time, assess the opponent’s weaknesses and strike at the appropriate time.

Anyone who has watched Game of Thrones can tell you that option 2 is better. Besides, I was a bit worried that he might also be a descendant of Genghis Khan and that his genes, amplified by his eagerness to impress his wife, might prompt him to get up and pound me mercilessly if I deployed Option 1.

I have gone through many harrowing experiences in my life; but the next couple of hours were as nerve wracking as any I have experienced, as I put my cunning brain to work on DEAR dislodgement. The bulletised version of my process- without going into the details of my tumultuous feelings- is given below to help others who might find themselves in the presence of a DEAR…

  1. Pointedly stretch my arms out and above my head multiple times, trying to subconsciously induce him to do the same, all the time watching the armrest from the corner of my eyes, so that I can make a quick incursion into one half of the disputed territory. (Like the Indian army, which had thrashed the Pakistan army and threw them out of Kargil, but nobly declined to take extra territory, I was determined that I would stop at what was rightfully mine.)
  2. If tactic 1. does not work because morons are immune to subtle subconscious suggestions, get up pointedly and walk in a constrained manner – like one whose bladder is bursting- towards the loo. This is a much stronger suggestion and might make DEAR also get up to go to the loo. The trick then is to sit down, take over disputed territory and then when DEAR returns, try to lose a few kilos of weight and blend into the seat so that one doesn’t have to get up to let DEAR in.
  3. When both these tactics do not work, sit completely still and use the power of your mind. The brain-waves of a determined and focused brain is capable of traveling across even vacuum and also penetrating the thick skulls of DEARs. The trick is to focus your mind on making the armrest uncomfortable for the DEAR. I did this by thinking that a. the armrest was heating up and sizzling, converting DEARs arm into tandoori chicken b. that the armrest had exploded and the DEAR was in deep shock and c. (more creatively) that the armrest had turned into a porcupine, poking the DEARs backside with numerous quills.
  4. When none of the above works in making him withdraw his troops, maintain a deep sulk.

It was during the deep sulk phase that DEARs wife politely asked me in Hindi if she could get out to go to the loo and I instantly saw my opportunity. I went through the motions of getting up and the wife and DEAR both stood up. I quickly shoved in my elbow and pointed out that due to turbulence, the pilot had turned on the fasten seatbelt sign and she was not allowed to get out. She promptly sat down and from the ensuing agitated conversation, I understood that she was about to throw up and moreover, that neither she nor her husband had any clue about the existence of the barf bag. Then realisation dawned on me. The poor guy was no DEAR. He just had not travelled much (if at all) on flights and knew nothing of civilised behaviour on airplanes. I quietly kicked my own backside (that hurt, since the recent bout of weight-loss had left my backside lean and scrawny) for being such a judgy bastard.

I redeemed myself in the next few minutes by quickly going through a well thought-out lesson plan on the usage of barf bags. The fact that I demonstrated how to open one and how to use it- with the necessary sound effects and actions thrown in- ensured that I covered all possible learning styles. The woman and the husband were both eternally grateful.

But what changed really was my attitude. I who had triumphantly and slimily taken over the armrest earlier quickly ceded this territory. After all, how do these small things matter between gurus and shishyas. Surprisingly, the husband also seemed to have learned his lesson and refused to reclaim the territory. The woman was good enough not to barf. We finished the rest of the journey in chummy silence, interspersed with loving sidelong glances at each other (the husband and I exchanged, but I absolutely desisted from returning the wife’s loving glances!)

The thought then crossed my mind – if India and Pakistan can find grounds where we can help each other and feel grateful/content, and both vacate Kashmir and give it breathing space, much like the armrest, all three of us can hug and smooch and exchange sidelong loving glances. This is actually what a fun Game of Thrones should be.

To read my humorous, yet motivational bestseller, click here From Ouch to Oops
Screen Shot 2015-02-10 at 7.31.05 pm

You might have read my earlier blog on how when I was 34, at the peak of my career and on top of the world, I was struck down by CIDP- a crippling autoimmune disorder. This was caused by my white blood corpuscles- my immune system- going rogue and attacking my own body- specifically, my peripheral nerves. You can read the details here E1S1
If you already have, please skip the next three paragraphs.

The story so far…

For those who hate to click on hyperlinks, here is the story in a nutshell- CIDP gradually wasted away my muscles, weakened my body, destroyed my balance- making it difficult for me to walk or even stand, making it difficult or impossible for me to perform mundane tasks such as buttoning my shirt, eating with my hand etc. Normal medications – IVIG, Steroids (prednisone) Azoran (Azathioprine) etc. had no discernible effect on improving my condition. Seven years after being afflicted, I enrolled for a clinical trial of a hematopoetic stem cell transplant (HSCT) procedure being conducted in the US. In 2011, at the age of 42, I went for the treatment.

The process involved removing the blood stem cells (Hematopoietic Stem Cells) from my blood, then rebooting the body by first killing all the treacherous WBCs using chemo, Rituximab and ATG and then injecting back the removed stem cells. The theory being that the new WBCs would not be corrupted by the rogue memory of the earlier lot and the body would heal.

The treatment substantially reversed my condition, albeit not fully. After the treatment, over the next few months, I worked out like a madman, building back my lost muscles. By the end of 1 year, my balance was substantially better, the strength in my hands, arms and legs were hugely improved and I was off all medications.

Now here is the current update ie. Episode-2, season-1.

It has now been five years since I got the second lease of life.

In these five years, I managed to completely reinvent my life – I published 2 books, became a bestselling author, became the cofounder of an exciting start-up, launched a science magazine for schoolteachers and became a much-sought-after motivational speaker for schools, colleges and corporates. My health no longer permitted me to become the CEO of a fortune 500 Company, but it did not stop me from dreaming of even bigger goals. I firmly believe that there is no point crying over the untimely demise of my successful corporate career; one has to accept reality and maximise it. So I have filled up every moment of my life with positive things to do. I have a new purpose in life – to touch a million lives positively. This makes me incredibly positive and ridiculously happy – always.

It was good that I learned the art of focusing on solutions instead of letting the problems take over my life, because three years after the Stem Cell Transplant, CIDP started creeping in again. Nowhere near as bad as earlier, but I started feeling some deterioration in strength and balance. As my body started slipping downward, I started the quest for fresh solutions.

I underwent one round of IVIG again – it cost Rs.6 lacs (thankfully covered by my wife – Jayu’s insurance). This arrested the downward trend. After two months, I had two courses of Rituximab – my favourite rat extract!! I also started on 2 grams of Cellcept every day. My condition seemed to stabilise, albeit at a slightly lower level than what I had reached after my Stem Cell Transplant (HSCT). My discussion with Dr Burt also indicated that some percentage of patients who undergo HSCT do get a mild relapse, but they stabilise back and have mostly gone off medication again.

Determined to leave no stone unturned for a complete cure, I went for a two-week naturopathy retreat at Dharmasthala – 6 hour drive from Bangalore. My heart was filled with hope. On the fifth day, I slipped on the oily floor, fell down and fractured my wrist and my knuckle. Calling up Jayu (my wife) and telling her I was heading back was tough- I could barely control tears of self-pity and frustration. But I have the ability to try and always focus on the way forward, and within five hours, I was on the long, 6-hours drive back home with my friend, Srini (whose treatment had come to an early closure thanks to me) driving the car. We completely enjoyed the drive and ended up singing Hindi, Tamil and Malayalam songs non-stop all the way. By the time I reached Bangalore, I was ready to take on the world and my CIDP. Unfortunately the fracture set me back in every way – since it was the right hand, I couldn’t type; I found walking more difficult, since one arm in cast created an imbalance and the last thing I wanted to do was trip and fall again. However, I continued to attend office. I am sorry to say I ignored my work-outs and walks during the two months that I had the cast on and it took me couple of months after that to get back to a routine.

I started experimenting with diets. I had heard that giving up grains and sticking to a protein heavy diet (paleo diet) helps autoimmune conditions. Dr. Terry Wahls in the US had cured herself of Multiple Sclerosis by following this paleo diet. I tried the Wahls protocol. It did not work.

I started taking regular yoga lessons. This seemed to help, as slowly my balance started improving again.

This was when I came across a book – ‘The Autoimmune Solution’ by Dr Amy Myers. She was again a victim of an autoimmune disorder, but had managed to cure herself of the disorder by a regimen of supplements and strict diet. The idea was to help heal the gut, reduce toxins, cure yeast overgrowth and reduce inflammation. Many of the supplements were not available in India, but when Jayu went to the US for a conference, she brought all these supplements from there. Thus, seven months back, I embarked on one of the toughest diets I have ever tried.

What I couldn’t have – All grains (wheat, refined flour, rice, oats, quinoa etc.); Potato, Tomato, Zucchini, Brinjal, Tapioca and other nightshades; all types of sugars, honey, sugar-free, jiggery; all dairy products and eggs; all legumes and all types of lentils; all peppers except black pepper; and all nuts and seeds. You might well ask what on earth I could have.

What I could have- Sweet potato, green leafy vegetables, cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage, coconut, all fruits, meat, poultry and sea food. Being one to love my curd (yogurt), I also innovated – created curd from coconut milk.

I also had tons of supplements in the first month- to heal the gut, improve detoxification, reduce yeast overgrowth, contain inflammation etc.

At the end of one month, I could feel a discernible difference. The side effect first- I lost ten kilos in four months and two more kilos subsequently. My balance started improving. Initially I put it down to the weight loss. However it soon became apparent that it was not just the balance, but also the overall strength that was improving – in my legs, my arms, my fingers etc. Over a period of time, I slowly reintroduced tapioca, tomato, potato, chilli (peppers) and extremely limited quantity of rice and lentils (once a week).

I pressed the advantage home and stepped up my exercising: now, I workout for 90 minutes in the gym every alternate day and every other day, I do 70 minutes of yoga in the morning and go for a walk in the evening. Over the last 2 months, the distance I walk has gone up from 2.5 Km to 5 Km. The speed has improved from 15 min/Km to 11 min/Km. I feel on top of the world (of course, no surprise there, since I never left the top of the world, even in the worst of times).

I have realised that holistic methods of treating disorders are as effective as they are unexplored and un-prescribed by specialists. . I have also been dabbling with meditation techniques and intend to explore that. I don’t know how much my body would continue to heal; maybe this is the best it will ever get. But I can assure you, it will not be for lack of trying.

So by actively seeking solutions, taking risks and experimenting with myself, I managed to identify two outstanding treatments – Stem Cell Transplant which got me back from 0% to about 90% and now, Myers Method, which got me back from the 70% I had slipped to, back to 90%. Would I recommend HSCT to others suffering from autoimmune disorders? Undoubtedly and unhesitatingly. It gave me my life back. But I would also tell them not to stop there, but try and address the root cause and embark on holistic healing and regular exercise and yoga.

Most importantly, I would request people to maximise happiness and find a positive and energising purpose in life. I will share more on my experience with this in my next blogs.

Do share these with as many people as you can. You might be saving someone’s life.

If you or your near and dear are suffering from an autoimmune disorder, or are going through a crucible experience in life, I will be happy to be a sounding board and try my level best to help you find positivity. Do reach out on my email ID ramgopal.vallath@gmail.com

You can also read my bestselling book -From Ouch to Oops. It is my life story – and I promise you, it will make you laugh. But I also promise you that it will make you want to embrace and enjoy life. To buy, click here From Ouch to Oops

Screen Shot 2015-02-10 at 7.31.05 pm

I first noticed it in 1986. When it repeated itself in 2015, it became a hypothesis and finally, yesterday, the hypothesis was validated and proved right. There is a direct correlation between my backside and Indian team’s victory in crucial matches.

I still remember with a cold and clammy feeling that day in 1986 when I had walked into the hostel common room to watch India play Pakistan at Sharjah. India had batted first and had scored an imposing total. When I walked in to watch the match, Pakistan was struggling at 140 for 4 and Miandad was at the crease. Pakistan required some obscenely high run rate to reach the target and it looked certain that we could celebrate that night by getting sloshed silly. Till I walked in and plonked my butt down on the chair, that is. The next couple of hours were the worst in my then-eighteen-years of life, as I watched Miandad pulverising India and leaving Chetan Sharma looking like a complete Idiot. But the one who looked even more like a complete idiot was I. In IIT, where students did complex mathematical analyses for fun, every single person sitting in the common room had noticed a direct correlation between my butt hitting the chair and India’s downturn. Being a very sensitive guy, who moreover loved his country very much, I was forced to acknowledge that there was a distinct possibility that the positioning of my butt in front of the TV seemed to in some mysterious way switch off team-India’s supply of luck. I was devastated, but kept hoping that we had misread the signs. After all, correlation doesn’t necessarily imply causation.

However, what happened in 2015 world cup semi finals made the possibility a near certainty. That day, at Zentron Labs, our start-up company, we had ordered pizzas for everyone so that we could happily sit back and watch India thrash Australia. Australia had set an extremely high target, but the Indian boys were chasing with gusto. Till my butt swung into action again, that is. I had plonked onto the seat in front of the makeshift screen we had created amidst our gizmos and equipment to feed our tummies with pizza while our spirits were to be fed with the sight of India winning. No sooner had I sat down than the all too familiar sinking feeling started– the well-set batsmen started playing ridiculous shots to get out. Eventually India lost. The young kids at Zentron were also smart enough to figure out the correlation, though they desisted from calling my butt seditious, since I had fed them pizzas. This time, I was also completely convinced that my butt was a reverse juju of sorts. Being very nationalistic, (RSS please note) I stopped watching cricket altogether.

Over the last one year, however, the rationalist in me managed to convince my superstitious side that laws of physics did not support my theory that my butt could have any significant effect on the outcome of Indian cricket team’s performance. (Except for marginally curving space-time – a localised effect, which should not matter unless I was sitting on Dhoni’s head.) So after a year of inner conflict, yesterday I sat down to watch the match between India and Bangladesh. As I watched the match progress, that sinking feeling again gripped my heart. Indian team was displaying unmistakable signs of being haunted by a malicious butt. Finally it came to a point where Bangladesh required just 2 runs off three balls. I performed the supreme sacrifice for my country. I switched off the TV and removed my butt away from the presence of the TV.

I know what you are thinking- you think I walked away because I believed that it was a lost cause, that I did not have faith that Bharat Mata would pull the team to an impossible victory. No, my friends. I knew that only by switching off my butt, could I strengthen the Indian team sufficiently. That and only that is the reason that I went away muttering.

All of you know what happened subsequently. Saved from the influence of the baleful backside, India took three wickets in the next three balls and won the game.

I have decided never to watch another Indian cricket match again- till scientists invent a material that can shield the invisible juju rays that come out of backsides. Then you will see me watching my country’s team, all dressed like superman and cheering India on.

In the meanwhile, if you think that yesterday’s victory was due to Dhoni’s captaincy or Hardik Pandya’s bowling, and have started worshipping them, think again. You know who (or to be specific, what) should be worshipped by the 1.2 billion people of India.

To read a whole wacky and humorous book authored by me, please click here From Ouch to Oops

Screen Shot 2015-02-10 at 7.31.05 pm

Image credit http://nextranks.com/dogs-breeds/pomeranian.html

I have always believed in experiential learning. As a kid, I was totally and completely into learning everything possible through experiments. Which is of course the reason that at the age of nine, I put a wet paper on a burning bulb, thereby making it explode, necessitating a quick retreat under the bed to avoid my mother’s investigative eyes. It was also the reason for me to try and measure the temperature of water being boiled in a bucket by an immersion heater, adopting the ingenious method of dipping my index finger into the water. That was a rather electric experience. Very shocking to be precise. I abandoned further experiments using electricity for quite some time and took it up again only that night when studying in XLRI, I was invited into the ladies hostel to fix the fuse.

Electricity continued to fascinate me – especially its effect on the body of stupid boys who dip their finger into water at 240V. So when I was asked (by myself as the Editor of ‘I wonder…’, a science magazine) to write an article on electricity that is interdisciplinary, the first thing that came to my mind was that moment in my life when my entire body had convulsed, even while my brain had been busy kicking my ass for idiotically trying to end my life in a flash of glory.

That is how I decided to write this article – ‘The biology of Electricity’.

If you want to find out why your body is the most complex and intricate electrically powered machine in the universe, please click on this link and read page 17-24. Also please read all other pages – as the first issue of ‘i wonder…’, I am sure there are glaring gaps in it. But I can promise you we will keep improving.

Here is the link to the magazine i wonder

And now, if you want to read a totally wacky, humorous science fiction novel I have written, please click here oops the mighty gurgle

Shakespeare said – or rather, Brutus told his friend Cassius in ‘Julius Caesar’ – There is a tide in the affairs of men. Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune; Omitted, all the voyage of their life is bound in shallows and in miseries.

I tend to agree with the first part of the quote. If we look back at our lives, we can identify specific instances that changed our fortunes. I call them inflection points.

In my case, it was the tail of a dog which I grasped firmly which took me thru the flood that set me off on a path that would eventually end up in IIT Chennai!! No, I don’t mean IIT is full of mutts. Though that also might be true, the story is a bit different.

I was in the seventh standard then. In a school famous for its headmaster – a man referred to by the students as ‘Laddoo’. Not for any sweetness of personality but for the fact that he tended to be rather spherical in shape. In fact, he was exactly the opposite of sweet. He used to bestride the corridors of Model School Thrissur like a colossus, with an equally colossal cane liberally waving in his hand. And he equally liberally used to ply the aforementioned cane to the bottom of many a boy unfortunate enough to cross his path while he rolled around. This attitude of suppression of students was generally shared by most of the teachers and my maths teacher was no exception.

And then, on that fateful day, the maths teacher gave the class an interesting assignment as homework.
It was rather a simple one- a set of coordinates was given which were to be plotted on a graph book. And once these points were joined, some amazing picture was to emerge.

As soon as I reached home, I set about plotting the coordinates. But imagine my utter agony of soul when I realised that the sheet on the graph book was too small to accommodate 3 of the points referred by 3 sets of coordinates. So I had an incomplete picture. I could already feel the cane of the maths teacher swishing its way towards my posterior!! I decided to join together at least the rest of the points and see what emerged. Well, what did emerge was a nice looking dog. But alas, a tailless dog. The three points left out would have completed the dog’s tail. I brooded and I brooded and I brooded. How on earth do I get these 3 points in? But no solution came to mind.

At this juncture, my dad happened to notice me hunched over the graph book, tearing my hair out and asked me what seemed to be the problem. At this point, my impression of my dad was that he was a nice and interesting character that came home for bed and dinner, and would tell us lots of stories during the weekends. But graph paper and coordinates? Man, you got to be kidding. How would he know such complicated stuff!!Still, in a rather condescending manner, I told him the problem, patting my backside to drive home the extent of the peril.

“Is that all? Simple. You just cut off a small piece from the next page in the graph book, staple it to this page and then you can draw the tail on that piece.” He said.

What??? Cut off a piece? This would only prompt an even more vicious assault on the posterior!
I refused. But my dad insisted. Finally age carried the day against good sense (or so I thought)
But I had to admit that the dog, complete with its tail looked rather cute.

The day of reckoning came. With a quaking heart and trembling hands, I showed my book to the teacher. And wonder of wonders – he grunted. You might well ask, so what if he grunted? Don’t these vicious types usually grunt? Ah, but this grunt was different. It was a grunt, modulated to show deep appreciation. A type of grunt as yet unheard of in his classroom. He also showed the book to the rest of the class and said- Only Ramgopal has got it right.

My father, whom I had considered an also ran till then, suddenly became the hot stuff. My admiration for him grew leaps and bounds.

After this, I would go to him every time I had doubts in maths. And he proved to be equally adept at aspects of maths other than dog’s tail, like square roots , cosines and such similar pippins. In a very short while, my fundamentals were clear. Maths, which was just another subject became my favourite. This love for maths finally paved the way for my outstanding performance in IIT JEE.

So I fondly remember the dog’s tail. And I tell my kids the tale of the tail of the dog. What more interesting inflection point in life can one think of!!

You can read more humorous (and supposedly inspiring) stuff from my life in my humorous book, From Ouch to Oops.
To buy, click here From Ouch to Oops

Screen Shot 2015-02-10 at 7.31.05 pm

Image credit http://runsickboyrun.blogspot.in/2011_01_09_archive.html

My tummy has weathered many an assault and shock treatment. Primarily because of an unfortunate mathematical correlation between the girth of my tummy and my age. When I was in my twenties, the circumference of my tummy was also in its twenties – inches, that is. When I grew into my thirties, my tummy obediently followed. This annoying habit continued, and when I aged (none too gracefully) into my forties, my tummy did its best to achieve a similar result. Tried its best, I say, since I did everything in my powers to scuttle Tummy’s diabolical plan (since the only advantage I perceived in such a vast and expansive tummy was that I could rest a glass of scotch on it while reclining in my seat).

To contain Tummy’s rampant ambition, I enrolled in VLCC twice. But each time Tummy sprang back viciously, like the long suppressed proletariat. I exercised like a maniac and dieted- in multiple discrete cycles. Tummy sprang back even more viciously each time. Even the chemotherapy I underwent made only a negligible dent on Tummy.

But, unknown to Tummy, dark tidings were brewing. And about two months back, catastrophe descended on poor Tummy. With the greatest of glee, I said, ‘Tummy, from today, thou shalt not eat rice or roti’. Tummy shuddered. Nastily, I ground my heels in further ‘Thou shalt no eat any form of wheat, nor potato, nor tomato’. I could feel the bugger quailing. Relentlessly, I continued ‘Thou shalt not eat red or green pepper, nor milk, nor cheese, nor butter, curd or ghee’. Poor Tummy recoiled in horror. I twisted the knife vigorously ‘Thou salt not eat dal nor legumes nor nuts nor oats nor any other grain.’ By now, Tummy was resigned to its fate and to the total madness of its lord and master. I drove in the last nail firmly “Ah, Tummy, by the way, thou shalt not drink alcohol, tea, coffee or have anything which has sugar, jaggery, or honey’, I said with the same supercilious air God must have had when he told Moses ‘Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife, nor his camel, nor his ass’.

You must be wondering, like my tummy, why on earth was I implementing such drastic austerity measures. No, I had not gone bonkers. The aforementioned diet is part of my plan to rid myself of the autoimmune disorder I have called CIDP. The diet called the Myers Way has been found to be very effective in reducing or even curing autoimmune conditions- provided, of course, the person retains his/her sanity.

The restrictions ensured that my daily food intake was rather exotic. Every day, with monotonous regularity, I eat baked sweet potato, vegetable smoothie and fruits for breakfast. For lunch, I have vegetable smoothie and sautéed vegetables; and for dinner, I have fruits, chicken/fish/prawn and vegetable soups.

After the first few days of absolute revolt, Tummy slowly adjusted to this torture. It would convulse and send signals to my mouth to start the waterworks every time my kids unwrapped a chocolate (which they seem to be doing incessantly since my diet started), but by and far, things were on track. The fact that I felt my condition improve and saw my weight plummet downwards also added to my resolve to continue on this path. Till disaster struck, that is…

That is when intolerance raised its ugly head. The first offender was my son- Advay, the bhelpuri-muncher. Out of the goodness and generosity of my heart, I had taken on the task of teaching him concepts of electricity. All was going well, till he suddenly upped and brought himself a humongous bowl of bhelpuri. With every new sentence I taught, he would deposit one spoon of bhel into his mouth and chomp away. The rampant irrigation that ensued in my mouth made the going tough. My tongue had to wade through Chennai-like floods to deliver V=I*R. Finally I got up, gathering any semblance of dignity I could, excused myself to go to the bathroom and chomped on a wet towel for the next ten minutes- till the bhelpuri-muncher finished his work. Little did he know how close the physics textbook was to transferring momentum on to his head in a southwardly direction.

Soon afterwards, my daughter, Ananya the multi-food-muncher, never one to be left behind, joined the fun with gay abandon. While sitting next to me on the sofa, watching Quantico, she proceeded to chomp away on two sandwiches, two scrambles eggs and a doughnut, all within a span of half, heartbreaking, hours. The reason I swallowed multiple times during Quantico that day had nothing to do with the suspense of the show.

Having survived these onslaughts, Tummy and I limped along, grumbling, till disaster struck again- and like all movie sequels, the second attack was far worse than the first. It came from completely unexpected quarters- from the 54 kilo weight, diminutive Krishnan, lovingly called Rbuddi(pronounced Arbuddi), my classmate, friend, colleague and boss. The disaster unfolded as below…

That eventful day, Rbuddi and I had to catch an early morning flight to Mumbai. I swallowed 4 sweet potato patties and a glass of smoothie a 4.30AM before embarking on the jouney. I met up with Rbuddi at the airport and we checked in. So far so good. Wait! This is where the ordeal started. No sooner had we cleared security, than Rbuddi embarked on a series of contiguous pigging acts that blended seamlessly into one another- starting with one breakfast, moving on to yet another breakfast, a sumptuous lunch, a heavy snack at the airport, finally culminating in parippu payasam (!!!) on the flight back. All that while poor Tummy was feeding on the sweet potato patties that I had carried and cut fruits.

I tell you, my poor tummy cannot take any more of this intolerance. If the bhelpuri-munchers, the multifood-munchers or the parippu payasam-drinkers continue their assault on poor Tummy, we will have no option but to migrate to Ethiopia, where we can live like kings.

To read more fun stuff, read my humorous motivational bestselling book ‘From Ouch to Oops’. Click here to buy it and have a blast Amazon

 Screen Shot 2015-02-10 at 7.31.05 pm