Extraordinary. That is how one could best describe this man. Struck by paralysis, barely able to walk or talk, ravaged by cancer and two heart attacks that have left him debilitated, Sharad Kumar Dicksheet of Brooklyn, New York, wouldn’t give up. Yet. He has, in fact, been reshaping, literally, the future of thousands of children suffering from various deformities like cleft lip and cleft palates. There can’t possibly be any greater instance of someone pushing the limits of human capabilities despite crippling obstacles.
Meet Dicksheet who was born on December 13, 1930 in Pandharpur, India.
Struck with paralysis following a car accident in Fairbanks, Alaska, in 1978, he is bound to a wheelchair with his heart functioning at 17 percent capacity. Besides, he suffers from terminal cancer of the larynx. But every year, he spends a few months in India running free surgical camps, funded by his pension, for those with cleft lips, squints, burns, scars and deformed noses. Dr. Dicksheet has carried out 65,000 operations in India. Patients travel hundreds of kilometers to his camps. Some arrive on foot, others hire rickshaws or scooters or even bullock carts to these camps.
| Dr Sharad Kumar Dicksheet
Though Dr. Dicksheet can’t move more than a few steps without his wheelchair, he is incredibly quick and nimble with his fingers. In fact, doctors videotape his surgeries to play them back in slow motion to study the intricate moves he weaves! Dr. Dicksheet says it takes only 15-20 minutes to operate upon a cleft lip, 5-7 minutes for a squint, 7-10 minutes for a ptosis and one to two minute for a Dab!
“The operation theatre is my temple,” says Dr. Dicksheet, adding that the surgeries are his “devotional prayers to God that literally keep me alive”.
The amazing thing is that Dr. Dicksheet is extraordinarily alive. When he is home in New York, he is a mere shadow of his other persona, for he can barely walk across the room without losing breath. But the moment he lands in India, he finds inexplicable strength to perform over 70 operations a day! In
1968, when Dr. Dicksheet launched his India Project, there were apprehensions as he was a completely unknown figure. Things soon changed after a few camps, with the number of children undergoing surgery rapidly multiplying. He even faced resistance from local plastic surgeons. Today, government-run hospitals and other corporate hospitals provide free space for him to conduct his camps.
Dr. Dicksheet has established a trust to continue his work. “After I am gone, the Plastic Surgery Educational Foundation of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons will receive a portion of the assets from my trust to continue the work,” he says.
In an interview in 2000, he had said: “Since I am treated as entirely disabled in the United States, this is my way of coming back to my country and contributing to life around me. I do cosmetic surgery, plastic surgery, correctional surgery that helps the poor, who would not be able to otherwise afford it. I see this as my job. That is all.”
Dr. Dicksheet has received numerous honours and awards. He has been nominated for the Nobel Peace prize several times for “devoting his life to fixing the deformed faces of the poor”.
Among his numerous honours are: Padma Shri Award of the Government of India; the Hamdan Award for Volunteers in Humanitarian Medical Services, Dubai; the Gandhi Peace Prize; the Rawl Wallenberg Prize; Concord Hilton Foundation Award and the Kellogg’s Hamnah World of Children Award; the Bhagini Sanskar Parishad Award; the NRI World-Merill Lynch NRI of the Year Award 2001, in Dubai; the Diwaliben Mehta Award, Mumbai; and the World Congress of Cosmetic Surgery, Lifetime Achievement Award in Aesthetic and Restorative Surgery.
Dr. Dicksheet is a living example of what human beings can achieve against great odds.
Dr. Sharad Kumar Dicksheet MD Fund Inc
135 Ocean Parkway, 17-C,
Brooklyn, New York 11218, USA
—This piece has been taken from the book, The Idea of Giving, published by the India Development Foundation of Overseas Indians.