Arun Jaitley had cheated death so often that many of us believed till the last that he would pull through. Despite recurring bouts of ill health, he had earlier fought back while retaining his courage, humour, sharp memory and abiding interest in every aspect of life.
Jaitley seldom let on that he was battling a series of crippling medical conditions. An acute diabetic for long, he had a heart bypass two decades back. In September 2014, in the first Modi government, the BJP leader was advised a bariatric operation to reduce his weight and help control his diabetes. But the operation at a major private hospital went horribly wrong and rumours spread that he was at death’s door. It was the remarkable efforts led by Dr Randeep Guleria and Nikhil Tandon at AIIMS which saved his life. Arun Jaitley funeral LIVE UPDATES
The country’s premier medical institute would come to his rescue several times in the next few years, as Jaitley was the first to acknowledge. Most of the doctors were his personal friends.
In 2018, Jaitley had another medical crisis. Having attended a party rally in Lucknow despite a bout of flu, he returned to Delhi with swollen feet and discovered that his potassium levels and other parameters indicated his kidneys were failing and a replacement was required. Within his own family, and his wife Sangeeta’s large family, there were many relatives who were keen to donate an organ and were a match.
In the early days of a transplant, the danger of infection is very high. So Jaitley stayed away from ministerial duties from April till August last year. However, after a stint operating from home and interacting with officials and select visitors over Facetime, he returned to office while taking care to avoid infection.
However, soon fate had an even uglier shock in store. Early this year Jaitley noticed a slight swelling near his knee as he was applying oil. The AIIMS doctors diagnosed it as early stages of sarcoma, one of the deadliest forms of cancer which starts in bones and connective tissue and can spread to any part.
Jaitley flew with his whole family, at his own expense, to the famed Sloan Kettering hospital in New York and the cancerous cells were scraped off. Though he kept off a ministerial role, he continued to take a very active role in the 2019 BJP election campaign, wrote blogs regularly and met BJP spokespersons daily at the party office.
But, in April, when he developed a cough that prevented him from speaking at a book release function, it was discovered that the sarcoma had spread to his lungs. He flew back to the US in the midst of the poll campaign for a week, on a trip that was kept a total secret. On his return, he refused to give up his party duties till the election campaign was over. Against his doctors’ advice, he worked long hours.
Despite the best efforts of doctors, the tumour couldn’t be checked. His body did not react well to repeated bouts of chemotherapy though oral medication appeared to be working. In end of July, a large tumorous lump was drained out with only the rim of the malignant cells remaining.
Jaitley still remained hopeful that he would soon be on the mend. What came as a big shock in midst of this was the sudden death of Sushma Swaraj, a political contemporary, on August 6. In a statement, Jaitley said he felt “broken”.
On August 9, his blood pressure rose and he complained of breathlessness and was shifted to AIIMS. But he gradually slipped into semi-consciousness. In the last few days his kidneys had again started failing. His complicated medical condition inevitably took a toll on his heart, and he died of cardiac arrest Saturday. Throughout his long struggle, his wife Sangeeta, known universally as Dolly, was a pillar of support.