Thank-You Zindagi

Meet kidney recipient, Manisha Chaubal-Menon, to be recognised as one of the Australians at this year’s ‘Donate Life, Thank- You Day’ on Sunday 21st November.

For the past six years, ‘Thank-you day’ has been an important day for people who have received a transplant and equally an occasion to celebrate and for their families to say ‘thank-you’ to their donors for changing their lives. We at G’day India and The Indian Weekly sit down with the courageous Manisha (52) to reflect on her journey as she takes us to the day in India when she first came to know about her kidneys.

Manisha, at the age of 38, was diagnosed five years ago before the transplant, when a severe stomach pain landed her up in a hospital in India, just a day before flying to Melbourne. Later only to be told about with ‘IgA nephropathy’ – a kidney disease in which IgA, a protein meant to defend the body against foreign invaders, accumulates in the kidneys and damages them, impairing their filtering function. Unfortunately, there is no cure, nothing to reverse the process of the kidney to function properly and the doctors made her aware that if not sooner than definitely later she might need a transplant. Manisha’s condition was treated with medication and dialysis three times a week for four hours at a time. The main focus for Manisha’s kidney is not to reduce to 10% or below and she was placed on the organ waiting list for a donor’s kidney.

It was decided that Manisha’s husband Prakash would be her donor or in the worst-case scenario if the kidney was not compatible, then they would opt for ‘Paired kidney.’ It meant that Prakash would have to give his kidney to somebody else, and that person would then partner their kidney to Manisha.

Meanwhile Manisha didn’t stop her life, she continued with her passion – dancing. Amongst a number of careers Manisha has had, she was primarily a dancer. She ran a dance troupe/school in Melbourne, producing shows including Shiamak Davar’s Stars of Bollywood – a journey of Indian cinema through dance at the Melbourne Exhibition Centre. Manisha and Prakash also took their kids to India to familiarise them with the life of urban and rural India. A visit to a farm just three days prior to boarding a flight for Melbourne was not only an adventure for the kids but it also proved fatal for Manisha as she was taken to the emergency ward once arriving in Melbourne. Manisha contracted a very rare UTI (urinary tract infection) that usually happens when in close contact with farm animals. The inevitable happened to push her kidney function from 20% to 13%. She had to undergo dialysis, which was a very physically painful experience for her at that stage.

While she was on the waiting list for four years, she was producing a dance show with her partner at the Bollywood Dance School, Manisha befriended an Indian couple, and they would insist on becoming her live kidney donor. Organs from donors of the same ethnic background are more likely to be a close match to patients in need of transplants. It took a while for Manisha and her husband to accept this generous offer as they were a young couple and haven’t even started a family. Manisha then decided to accept the offer of the male friend to be the subsequent donor. “It was your name written all over his kidney” says the donor’s mother to Manisha making her a bit emotional during the interview.

Finally, in October 2012, Manisha’s kidney transplant took place at the age of 43 and it was a successful transplant after six hours of operation. Isolated in a hospital room from everyone, Manisha was protecting herself due to her immune being suppressed, but it took her three months post-operation to settle with the new kidney. Prakash, her husband, looked after Manisha and her donor friend as they recovered from their respective surgeries.
Her recovery has been incredible, taking ten to twelve tablets before breakfast to kick start her day hadn’t changed her routine – she was going to the gym four months post-transplant and started running eight months post-transplant. Though she knows that even after ten to fifteen years of the transplant, the body may still reject the transplant and she has to continue taking some medication for life, this still hasn’t dampened Manisha’s outlook towards life.

Her incredible message to people is straight forward “When I die what use is my body to anyone? I’d rather donate my organs and save 10 plus lives. If you’d been in a situation where your loved one needed one, would you say No? No, in fact, you would do anything and everything to save their lives.”

Manisha is passionate and though her perspective in life is to live every day as if it’s the last one might sound so clichéd but to her every day is a gift and tomorrow is never known so live today to the maximum. Registering to become an organ donor is not only about saving one life; it is about saving a family.

Manisha’s challenges haven’t tarnished her positivity, she has become an advocate to transform peoples live by spreading the message of organ donation. Be it in a University Open day or even volunteering at the Royal Easter show and she’s the customer representative with the Transplantation Society of Australia and New Zealand, a voice for the patient. Apart from studying a Diploma of Counselling she facilitates an anxiety recovery group in Melbourne.

Even a family tragedy losing her son in LA six years ago in a accident has not made Manisha the victim to life’s tragedy, stealing her time with her son but it has made her strong and resilient to fight back on every curveball life threw at her.
People would often question “Why Me?” but Manisha never reflected on why this has happened to her. She candidly tells us that it has paved her path that she may never have embraced, be it spiritually or even being sensitive to things around her.

The power of Manisha’s positivity so touches us, and the way challenges haven’t jaded her momentum, but she has run with it and made it her own, we at G’day India and The Indian Weekly salute her remarkable journey and wish her the very best for the future.
Manisha’s amazing bravery is a testament to time, and we couldn’t help but quote Rumi “The wound is the place where the light enters you.”

By Nandita Chakraborty

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