From Life on dialysis to turmoil in her personal life, Neha’s story is one of hope and a determined outlook, no matter what life has thrown at her.
Neha Mittal has been through an incredible amount at a very young age. At just 35, Neha has seen more than her fair share of adversities. Despite every obstacle thrown in her path, her positive approach and ‘can-do’ attitude has remained unwavering, making her the strong woman she is today.
In 2008, at just 23 years old, Neha moved to Sydney from Lucknow, India after getting married, and was soon pregnant with her first child. It was in this pregnancy that she would later find out she had developed gestational high blood pressure, one of the primary causes of kidney disease. Even before she found this out, her first pregnancy, which should have been filled with excitement, was turned into a bitter experience. Her baby was moved into the neonatal intensive care unit shortly after birth and sadly only lived for two months. Following this, a biopsy revealed to Neha that her right and left kidney function were decreasing, and not operating at full capacity.
This was, of course, quite a blow to hear for a woman of such a young age, and she went on to face many other life challenges over the years. Health problems aside, Neha was subjected to domestic violence from her husband at the time, who was having an extramarital affair. The dissolution of their marriage was an additional difficulty she had to face, in a foreign country away from her family. Thankfully, later that same year she was blessed to find love once again with her current husband Pawan, and they formed a family with his young daughter Siya, who was six years old at the time.
Despite this new happiness in her love life, the very next year (2014), brought some terrible news. After experiencing a bad stomach ache, an ultrasound at the hospital revealed that Neha had a lesion, which turned out to be cancer on her right kidney. Her doctor made the decision that the kidney had to be removed in order to save her life, but as her remaining kidney only had 5 per cent function after her previous health complications, she became dependent on dialysis. In this case, it was peritoneal dialysis, which involves 2 litres of a special dialysis fluid being inserted through a catheter, in order to cleanse the blood and remove waste products. Neha describes the “painful journey” of experiencing this for 11 hours daily, for 5 years, struggling to sleep each night as the process caused pains that felt as though she was in labour once more.
The impacts of daily dialysis on one’s life are not to be overlooked. Neha’s social life was reduced to virtually zero. Every evening after work, she would have to begin preparing her dialysis machine. The once bubbly, cheerful young woman now had to sit on her bed for hours on end, and it took a toll on her both physically and mentally. Going to swimming pools or the beach was out of the question, as she effectively had an open wound. This even meant it was too risky to travel, and she missed the weddings of her two beloved sisters back in India. In fact, to this day she has been unable to visit her hometown since her last trip in 2013.
Despite these difficulties, Neha proved herself to be the sort of person to never give up. She had no interest in sitting at home without tasks to do and continued to work part-time at Commonwealth Bank. Work aside, her husband had noticed how down she had been feeling and helped her start a YouTube Channel during her time at home! The cooking channel, entitled “Tips & Tricks of my Kitchen” featured videos he had taken of her sharing her absolute favourite recipes. “With God’s grace and the love of my followers I got more than a hundred thousand subscribers within a year,” she says, explaining how she diverted her negative energies into positivity, and learned all about the world of YouTube with her partner. Soon, people began to notice this incredible effort. Comm Bank even invited her to speak at one of their ‘Storylab’ events, which is alike to a TedTalk, and she was able to share her inspiring story with others.
Now, of course, Neha was on a transplant list – but it was a long wait! In Australia, there is a very low rate of organ donation, and she had to wait 5 long years for her miracle to arrive. In 2018, she was told she was in the top 5 on the list, but by February the next year, her hope had dissipated, and she was discouraged by the lack of progress. Finally, the magic day came – and believe it or not, it was her 35th birthday! As Neha describes it, “God brought me into this world on the 7 April 1984 and he gave me the chance to live again on 7 April 2019.”
That day, Neha had gone out with her family for brunch at an Indian restaurant to celebrate her birthday. This was a special treat, as her diet was extremely limited due to a massive electrolyte imbalance, so eating out could prove to be a challenge. When she had returned home, she got a call, and the words on the other end of the line were “Hey Neha, this is Chris your transplant coordinator. I’ve got good news – I’ve got a kidney for you!” Tears rolled down her face immediately, as she was filled with anxiety, but overwhelmed with excitement simultaneously. She was instructed not to eat or drink anything else, shower from head to toe and then head straight to Westmead hospital, and by 5 pm that evening she was in the operating theatre.
The operation was life-changing, and Neha was told soon after that her kidney was doing extremely well. Despite being in lots of pain after the operation, she was so relieved. The next morning, a nurse showed her a bag of urine from the attached catheter, a sight she hadn’t seen for five years.
Experiencing firsthand how an organ donation can change one’s life, Neha was keen to do her part. She had always wanted to be a donor, but was skeptical about whether she could, due to her kidney disease. Despite her nerves, she plucked up the courage to ask her specialist and he told her “you have a perfect heart, lung, eyes, skin and all of that can be used.” She was overjoyed and signed up immediately – it only took two minutes to enter her Medicare details and soon a card was dispatched!
DonateLife Week 2020 is Sunday 26 July to 2 August, and Neha recognises more than most how important it is to encourage more Australians to register to be organ and tissue donors. She stresses the need for greater education and awareness for the cause. A friend that she spoke to once said that her parents had forbidden her from donating organs, due to cultural mythology that claims the donor will be reincarnated without them. In response to this, she has shared her favourite quote: “Don’t take your organs to heaven, heaven knows we need them here.”
Neha and many other out there hope that more Australians take this easy step towards saving people’s lives and improving the quality of those around them as well. As she puts it, many people want to achieve something in their life, which is great, but registering yourself as an organ donor allows you to help others beyond death. She is now feeling much healthier, happier and looking forward to reuniting with her family in India, once the COVID-19 pandemic calms down.
By Monisha Iswaran