By Malisa Playter-Harry
Dr. Vishwa Deva Budhram Mahadeo is a simple and down-to-earth medical practitioner whose exploits are too numerous to be outlined in the pages of this newspaper.
But although he is recognised by many as an outstanding doctor, he fully embraces the belief, that “God heals and we, the doctors, are his tools in facilitating that healing process.” This profound notion has guided his career since it started many years ago.
“I manage patients but do not charge a fee…this does not make me right and my colleagues wrong – just my personal belief,” he said during a recent interview.
In speaking of his preferred way of dealing with patients, Dr. Mahadeo revealed that “there are interventions that can be done to help multitudes, hence my foray into public health, after a decade of clinical medicine alone, while still doing clinical medicine”.
Born on March 17, 1959 into a simple family of strict vegetarians, parented by Pandit Budhram Mahadeo fondly called “Pa” and Ms. Rajkumarie Mahadeo fondly called “Ma”, he is the second of five siblings – including two sisters and two brothers.
Home was in the village of Number 66, Corentyne, Berbice. His parents, who were both the eldest of their siblings, were self-taught and had successfully acquired qualifications and certificates in Hindi and Sanskrit Languages and Interpreters Certifications. This paved a path for both “Ma” and “Pa”, he recalled, to embark on becoming teachers in Hindi and Sanskrit as well as Religious Studies at Hindu Temples throughout the ancient county.
“Pa” also served as the President of the Rice Producers’ Association for 17 years before he entered the realm of politics. He joined the PPP in 1950, the said year it was established. He had become a lead Councillor in that political party at the regional level up until the party gained victory in 1992.
Dr. Vishwa Mahadeo, known by many, recalled growing up during a time when there was a sense of “strength and unity” in his close-knit family. In fact, he recalled that during that time, the family endured “oppression and harassment for our principles” but it was such experiences that helped to instil in him a sense of patriotism, justice “and a desire to serve my country”.COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT
Dr. Mahadeo remembers that from a tender age he had become actively involved in youth groups and found himself involved with many youth-related activities in various communities, and even working with youths on a national level.
“In these groups we shared activities such as exercising, playing games such as cricket and other fun activities, such as ‘Kabaddi’ at the village cricket ground. At the same time, we also studied and prayed together. I learnt a lot about leadership skills and supporting others by these activities and I remember such times with great fondness and sense of satisfaction to have known, support and remain a brother to so many wonderful people to this day,” he said.
As time elapsed and he matured, Dr. Mahadeo joined hands with his two other brothers, Jag Mahadeo, who is a Arya Samaj Priest, Engineer and Lean Manager in the USA, and Dr. Yog Mahadeo, also a Priest as well as a Consultant, Accountant, Journalist and Lawyer, to assist their parents in the small scale rice and vegetable cultivation.
This was required, he recalled, “since it was the backdrop of our family’s subsistence”. To do this, he remembers, having to walk for more than five miles “barefooted on a daily basis, sometimes on muddy dams in the rainy season, to assist with various activities at different times of the rice crop.”
MOTIVATED TO STUDY
He recounted that his parents were staunch believers in the acquiring and benefit of knowledge and education above material wealth. Assuming this view to his life was a crucial stepping-stone for him. His sisters were also successful because of this principle which was set out by their parents. His sister, Ms. Vidya Mahadeo, got involved in Electronics and the other, Dr Vishwanie Mahadeo-Heads, became a Scientist and Associate Professor at the University College, London.
He believes that their parents were especially proud of them by the time they passed away in the early 2000’s.
“Doc”, as he is also popularly called by those he has treated over the years, recalled the many late hours studying and as a form of motivation and encouragement, his parents would study with them.
“This bore fruit when, after an accident through which I could not attend school to prepare for the Common Entrance Examinations, my mom sat with me each night to ensure that I was prepared, and thanks to her, I gained a spot at Queen’s College. However, I could not attend due to financial constraints. Their inspiration and belief in me helped me to achieve success in all my studies and intellectual pursuits,” he reflected.
He attended the New Market, Number 68 and Massiah Primary schools where he wrote the Common Entrance Exams. Although constrained financially, he was not deterred from accomplishing his desire, which he had from an early age, to become a Medical Doctor. He completed his secondary education at Skeldon Line Path School and in 5th form he was moved to Berbice High to pursue Chemistry and Physics, since it was not offered at Skeldon Line Path Secondary at that time. Following that, he was moved to New Amsterdam Multilateral School.
During his school years, he found a joy and interest in reading, as well as the exciting sports of Cricket and Football.
At the age of 15, the young Vishwa Mahadeo obtained nine GCE O ‘Levels subjects, but this success came a bit too early for him to advance to the University of Guyana.
“At that time you had to be at least 18 years old to attend the University of Guyana,” he recalled. He stated that he instead applied for a government job at the Regional Democratic Council, but was unexpectedly turned down. Several applications for study scholarships were also denied, he said, because of his family’s political affiliation.
That did not deter him. He continued to believe that his dreams would one day become a reality. “My mother used to tell me that as a small child I used to pretend to be a doctor and used makeshift toys to listen to people’s chest (heart). I always knew I would become a Doctor of Medicine,” he intimated.He began volunteering his services as a Laboratory Assistant at the Lower Corentyne Secondary School until he had attained the age of 18. By then he was ready to pursue studies at the University of Guyana.
“Since there was no medical school in Guyana and scholarships were given to chosen persons, I had decided as an alternative choice to become a Genetic Engineer, so I started doing Biology and Chemistry at the University of Guyana, with the plan to get a job and finance my studies further,” he revealed.
“Doc” said it was not long after that he eventually attained a government scholarship to study in Moscow, Russia, where he obtained his ‘Doctor of Medicine’ with Postgraduate Certificate in Surgery and Traumatology, a Teacher’s Certificate and Interpreter’s Certificate too. He later became a Registrar in Obstetrics and Gynecology.
The doctor did not stop there, he went on to obtain a Master’s degree in Business Administration from the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill Campus. He also completed a fellowship and became a Leader in International Health through the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO). He also completed the Master’s in Public Health offered by the University of Guyana, among other qualifications including: Trained Teacher using Electronic medium, VCT, etc.
“My experience in Russia was challenging because of a completely new language, a new culture in which being vegetarian was very unusual at the time and, especially when combined with the particularly harsh Russian winters where temperatures were regularly -20°. However, it was also quite interesting and informative, because I met with students from over 100 countries, and by sharing a hostel with them, it helped me to appreciate other cultures and values and that made me grow. Medical school was quite a thrill,” he noted.
After spending seven years studying, “Doc” was one of 129 students from over 75 countries who graduated as Medical Doctors from his University. He returned to Guyana with post graduate qualifications and was immediately assigned to the old New Amsterdam Hospital.DEDICATED PRACTITIONER
Dr. Mahadeo served as a General Medical Officer from 1990-1994, and for an extended period he worked as one of only two Guyanese doctors in the hospital doing all emergencies at the Accident and Emergency unit. There were three Cuban doctors who were stationed there, too, but when they left, Dr. Mahadeo said that he worked for months at a time as the only doctor in the hospital.
With limited facilities during that time, Dr. Mahadeo said “the lab used to do only Hb (Hemoglobin) sometimes, and sometimes only few medicines were in the dispensary. The theatre had huge holes where ACs had been removed years before, posing huge risks for infection on surgical sites. Those days we used to say, “God had to be Guyanese” since we did surgeries in basically field-type conditions and still had very few infections.”
Among the many feathers in his cap, Dr. Mahadeo was actively involved in the planning and implementation of many outreaches to improve health, many of which were exceptional. One of those that will forever remain etched in his memory, was an outreach that was executed up the Berbice River in 1991 where two children, ages 8 and 10, were transported out because they were severely anemic.
“Their HB levels were so low the machine could not read them, and kept giving error as the value. So, we reached the hospital at 7 that night and in those days, there was no blood bank, but the blood group of the children matched mine and the Pharmacist. We gave one unit of blood each and transfused to the boys overnight; the next day both were running around. These medical outreaches have also proved to be inspirational for young people who we invited to observe. This has resulted in at least three budding medical doctors in the next generation of our family,” he revealed.
Not long after, Dr. Mahadeo was transferred to the Suddie Public Hospital (February 1994) as the Medical Superintendent, and there he oversaw many projects. He also served as the Surgeon (both General and Orthopaedic) and as an OB/Gyn specialist for both the Suddie and Charity Hospitals.
He remembers also saving the lives of two persons who were badly in need of blood but there was no blood bank. He, again, donated his blood before he took them into surgery. “Both survived and were alive when I left Region 2 in 2003. Those are precious memories,” he asserted.
He then returned to Region 6 after spending 10 years in Essequibo and was then appointed the Chief Executive Officer of the Berbice Regional Health Authority (BRHA).
It was Dr Mahadeo who piloted the Regional Health Authority for the county. In that capacity he oversaw the construction of the New Amsterdam Hospital and managed to spearhead the construction of an ICU (since the original plan hadn’t an ICU), a Neonatal ICU, the Blood Bank and the Diabetic Foot Care Clinic, among many others sections of the hospital. He also served as the CEO of the NA Hospital from 2006 – June 2009.
From 2006 to June 2009, zero maternal deaths were recorded at the hospitals of Region 6, he recalled with pride. He also reflected on how he implemented over 15 projects as head of the BRHA.
PATRIOTIC SON OF THE SOIL
Dr. Mahadeo said that during his early life, he was offered a job in London and there were a few other job offers to work in the Islands, but he saw that his skills were needed more in Guyana, and so he decided to stay. He said too that he became actively involved in politics in the year 2006, after he was asked to have his name on the party’s candidate list, and in 2009, he became a Member of Parliament, representing Region 6, until parliament was dissolved.
On a typical workday these days, “Doc” is actively involved in his party’s COVID-19 Task Force, but he would also visit sick person who call for help. He also provides advise via phone, all at no cost.
“In my work I save lives and help everyone morally, physically and spiritually. This is as important as my life. It has been my life’s mission,” he insisted. He draws inspiration and motivation from “my parents; my Guru, Swami Veda Bharati of the Himalayas, and my siblings”.
He noted that his greatest achievement to date has been “every surgery, every delivery, every life saved…. each bit of medical, moral and spiritual advice. They have all been equally spectacular. Every contribution in the religious and political arena, I cherish. Every young person that I assisted or advised is special”.
“Every time a young doctor, and some not so young, a nurse, a Laboratory Technologist or Pharmacist, or their relatives, say that they chose to become a medical professional because I inspired them, I feel at peace knowing the work will continue. When a patient tells me that we are now blood relatives because my blood is running in their veins, I feel gratitude.”
While there is so much more to be told about this exceptional medical professional and his vast contributions to the health sector, it would be remiss to not include his words of counsel, “Your dreams are yours alone to fulfil. You can achieve anything you set your mind to and work honestly and diligently to achieve. Believe fervently “Lord there is NOTHING you and I cannot achieve TOGETHER.”
“Your dreams are yours alone to fulfil. You can achieve anything you set your mind to and work honestly and diligently to achieve. Believe fervently “Lord there is NOTHING you and I cannot achieve TOGETHER.”
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