The scalpel scientist: Man who mends the broken bones and dreams of India’s top athleteshttps://indianexpress.com/article/sports/sport-others/the-scalpel-scientist-the-man-who-mends-the-broken-bones-and-dreams-of-indias-top-athletes-5302483/

The scalpel scientist: Man who mends the broken bones and dreams of India’s top athletes

Dinshaw Pardiwala, the man who mends the broken bones and dreams of India's top athletes, the one they trust with intimate medical secrets.

Dinshaw Pardiwala is the man who mends the broken bones of India’s top athletes.

It was in mid-January, 2017 at the Siri Fort Complex in Delhi when Parupalli Kashyap experienced the ecstasy of winning the Premier Badminton League with Chennai and suffering a dislocated shoulder in his match against HS Prannoy. However, the shuttler was able to come back from what could easily have been a career-threatening injury thanks to a doctor who as at the venue as a mere fan.

Dr Dinshaw Pardiwala knew the shuttler’s diving knee inside out – having operated upon it earlier to remove a floating chip that had wrecked his Olympics. This time he knew Kashyap’s shoulder needed immediate attention. It was close to 11 in the night, and the doctor would bundle up the panicking, hysterical player into a car, make a call to a former assistant surgeon and travel an hour and a half to the capital’s outskirts to a small clinic which was opened for an MRI, getting the scan done past midnight. Kashyap was bawling from pain and uncertainty by now. He needed a cold, clinical assessment. “Dinshaw sir said ‘the fact of the matter is it’s very bad. It’s a complete dislocation’.”

When the knee problem happened, Pardiwala had told Kashyap clearly – Olympics is not happening, forget about it. “Rio was everything for me, so eight weeks of not knowing had screwed my mind. When he told me the truth, I was actually relieved. What sportspersons like about him is he’s very clear. He’s not pleasing us, he understands sport, he’s direct. That’s all the athletes want,” Kashyap says.

A staggering 12 of the 66 medallists at the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games have benefitted from Pardiwala’s decisive calls and subsequent surgeries. Add to that a couple of Olympic medals and Saina Nehwal’s World Championship bronze.

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Sport’s ace bone-mender, in fact, has played an incisive role in India’s Olympic story right from boxer Akhil Kumar’s time over a decade ago. Sushil Kumar, Yogeshwar Dutt, Vikas Krishan, Saina, PV Sindhu, all the three medalling Phogat cousins and rugby captain Hrishi Pendse and most top kabaddi stars, have all been patched back together by Pardiwala, who is director (arthoscopy and sports orthopaedics) at Mumbai’s Kokilaben Hospital.

This is besides some Indian cricketers, whose cases are bound by tight confidentiality clauses. Suffice to say, his timely surgical interventions have been crucial for some of India’s top contemporary pace bowlers managing to blend good form with sewn and glued, slapped-into-shape fitness. While some legendary middle-order batters have piled on the runs and continue to do so, after returning from injury and attended to by the doctor.

Indian wrestling’s most traumatic injury at the Olympics was when Vinesh Phogat got stretchered off at Rio. Pardiwala had seen off Vinesh with a promise from the wrestler that he would celebrate her medal and watch it on TV, but he would watch the tragedy unfold instead and leave a message: “Don’t worry. I’m there.” Vinesh was still beside herself, and would return to the text only after she had calmed down a little.

“He told me ‘come directly to the hospital’. 200 percent he took guarantee. He told me he’d make me better than before. When a big doctor who’s treated some big athletes tells you that, you have to keep quiet, stop crying and agree. Mujhe zaroorat thi toh unhone sab appointments hataa diya aur bole Vinesh ka pehle,” she recalls. The rehab was a long-drawn process testing the restless girl’s patience, but the doctor would keep an eye on her right till she topped the podium at Gold Coast.

Boxer Akhil recalls all the doomsday declarations that were thrown at him by several doctors after his right wrist sent shooting pain up his arm in 2007. “Only Dr Pardiwala told me that the hairline fracture and bruising between bones could be fixed. Woh aise bharosa dete hai, aur haqeeqat ki baat tareeke se samjhaate hai, ki confidence aa jaata hai,” he recalls. Operated upon in August 2007, he would undergo an eight-week rehab and qualify for the Beijing Olympics at a meet where he would also be declared ‘Best Boxer’.

Museum of mended bones

When you meet him at his workplace – Pardiwala is surrounded by his love for sport. These are mementos of gratitude, framed paraphernalia from athletes – trophies carved from trauma. There’s a giant discus that Seema Antil flung to medal distance, a strung racquet of Mahesh Bhupathi looms over the doorway, a cricket bat from the 2015 World Cup signed by all members, boxing gloves from Akhil and Vikas, a shuttle from Sindhu’s Rio quiver and a wrestling jersey signed by all leading wrestlers from Glasgow line the room.

Pardiwala has a ready sense of humour. He is explaining common shoulder overuse injuries in swimming, before arriving at how Virdhawal Khade landed under his scalpel. “You can’t get an ACL injury in the pool… unless someone jumps on your knee, or something,” he quips.

Khade underwent ACL reconstruction four months before making the Commonwealth Games semifinals. “If you are a sprinter in swimming, then strength is a critical part of training. A lot of work is not done inside the pool, but in the gym. Vir must’ve really pushed himself and landed up with the knee injury,” he explains, reiterating that swim pools are the kindest on joints.

“Yes, 12 of them were operated upon by me in the last 2-3 years. These are major surgeries, but look at the percentages. A significant number have come out of injury and gone back to world-beating levels. Would that have been possible 20 years ago? Highly unlikely.. it’d have been very tough for technology of those times,” he says, insisting that 25 years back, an ACL tear would’ve been a career-ending injury.

Kashyap makes a pertinent point here. “In Gopi bhaiyya’s time, a shot-knee meant a straight cut-open surgery with a minimum of six months–a year gone. We’re luckier, and the post-surgery rehab programme is very intensive too. If you see, no Chinese is coming back as well as Indians after surgery. Dr Pardiwala and the rehab team are doing things right.” While Indian rehab methods might still trail the best research in USA, Europe, Australia or South Africa, athletes here are onto ice-baths and water-treadmills.

Not a lot of combat athletes like their information out there, especially in wrestling where opponents will go for the part that’s operated. However, one of the most gratifying results for Pardiwala was Yogeshwar. “He realised his knee felt stronger than ever after surgery. Of course, it’s not because of the surgery, it was the rehab. It’s not just the ligament but the entire body that was getting strengthened. As a surgeon you are happy that you played a small part in that process,” he says.

Yogeshwar, who first consulted him for a dodgy knee in 2013 after he was roundly told he would never wrestle again, swears by the doctor’s advice. “His motivation helped me return to the mat after four months. His is timely reassurance, and his check-ups will be clear — this is your injury, this is how you’ll get better. He doesn’t always insist on operations, he’ll try and avoid it as much as possible,” Dutt says.

Trust him with cartilage, career

Pardiwala recalls how a meniscus tear for an India pacer once also tore down a thick wall of patience. “We would normally fix a small meniscus tear and the average return time would be a month. But he didn’t feel 100 per cent at the end of the month. Then other factors came into play. Another player came into the team, and you have to compete with him and it took 3-4 months for him to return. A small thing but it became an extreme challenge. A doctor needs to be aware of this frame of mind,” he says, stressing that it’s not just the bones that crack.

What has been a challenge for him though is treating competing rivals. Pardiwala has treated both Sushil and Narsingh, both Saina and Sindhu, a clutch of wrestlers gunning for the same category, boxers in the same division as well as fast bowlers aiming for the same slots. “For some athletes, this is privileged medical information, while others are open about it – Saina actually posted a picture right after surgery!” he says.

“Sindhu and Saina are big competitors. Often that’s a big challenge for them – they know the doctor they are going to is also treating their biggest rival. But if they can trust us with their medical information, then they can trust us with treating them,” he explains.

His straightforward assessments and discreet confidentiality have meant that the whole bunch of top India shuttlers and wrestlers trust him with their most intimate medical secrets. One of the doctor’s favourite stories is grappler Rahul Aware, who had taken a tough call last season to give up on the fat money in the glitzy league to get ready for the CWG. “He comes from a very modest background, and faced a lot of challenges – regionalism, selection issues. He took that call and said ‘No, I’m not gonna take that money, for me that gold at CWG is important’. Surgery, rehab followed. I remember meeting him the day before he left, and he said ‘I am coming back with a gold come what may.’ A lot of athletes say that, but this guy really did it,” he adds.

While most athletes quiz the 49-year-old on how soon they can return (“Always the first question”), the surgeon’s call is crucial on whether to carry on with an injection and pull along for 2-3 tournaments or wrap up a season, or summon the scalpel because the injury is bound to get worse and you’ll lose more time.

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For the 12 that returned with medals from the CWG, there’s a litany of splintered dreams he’s helped bandage without podium returns. “I might not remember every patient’s name. But one look at their face, and I can tell the last details of the bones that were fixed,” he says.