In February 2003, three-year-old Chunchun from Samastipur was rushed to a hospital in Delhi for immediate surgery after early diagnosis of brain cancer. Four years later, when her father brought her to the hospital for a follow-up, Chunchun had become Amrita Acharya.
The mystery behind the change of name lies in another name — that of Dr Rajesh Acharya, the neurosurgeon who treated Chunchun and ensured that the distraught family could afford the surgery at Sir Ganga Ram Hospital.
So overwhelmed was Amrita’s family by the doctor’s gesture that it decided to rename her after him — officially.
“When I was being admitted to school, my grandfather came up with the idea that I should have the name of the surgeon who treated me, as a tribute. We wrote on an affidavit that I was named after the doctor who saved my life,” said Amrita, now 15 and a Class X student at Icon-Preet Public School in Samastipur.
As for Dr Acharya, this gesture was like “an award”. “I was baffled when I heard that they had changed her name. Surgeons get national and international awards, and put up their citations for display. How do you display an award like this?” he asked.
Amrita spoke to The Indian Express in Delhi this week during another follow-up visit, this time with her grandfather Vikas Kumar, instead of her parents who are both schoolteachers in Samastipur.
According to Amrita’s grandfather, doctors in Patna told the family after a CT scan that chances of Chunchun’s survival were very slim.
“We had no money and everyone told us that operating on her in Bihar would be risky. We got on a train and thought we would try our luck with Dr Acharya in Delhi who we had been told to meet,” said Kumar.
At Sir Ganga Ram Hospital, doctors advised immediate surgery. “We could not have afforded the Rs 1-lakh fee and requested Dr Acharya to help us. Thankfully, he facilitated our admission in the general ward and spoke to the administration to waive the surgery costs,” Kumar said.
The family was also given the option of being referred to a government hospital but they refused. “We had gone to government hospitals in Bihar and they said it was a wonder that she was still alive. They said she wouldn’t survive. We did not want to go to another government hospital in Delhi,” Kumar said.
During surgery, doctors found that Amrita had multiple pus-filled abscesses that were “mimicking” a cancer in scans. “We took out three-four such lobes. She recovered well after the surgery, and I discharged her that March with advice to follow up every 2-3 years,” Dr Acharya said, adding that he barely recognised Amrita when she returned for a follow-up in 2007.
Amrita recalled that when she returned to the hospital for the first time, everyone asked “if I was the same person”.
“They asked me if it was a coincidence that I shared my name with my doctor. Even in Samastipur, when I registered for my board exams this year, the school authorities raised a query about my surname because it was different from that my father, Pitam Kumar Pankaj,” said Amrita, with a giggle.
Looking ahead, Amrita says she is clear about the future. “I am struck by the power doctors have over people’s lives. My parents must have been so helpless when they came to Dr Acharya. I want to help people, too, like he does,” she said.