The journey to well being : Dr Mala Raj

As you walk into Firm Hospitals in Annanagar, Chennai, the first thing that catches your eye is the way the girl child is celebrated. There are both motivational posters and quirky quotes about how the girl child is one of the best presents one can get. There is an air of efficiency that gives the impression that no matter how many patients are waiting to see the doctor, the time for waiting is not likely to be long. Perhaps it is, but that cannot be helped considering the huge number of women who throng to see this famous doctor.

The hum of the numbers gradually comes down and that is when I am called in to meet Dr Mala Raj, celebrated obstetrician and gynecologist, a specialist in laparoscopic surgery and infertility and a person who has given hope to several women.

It has been a long day like any other and yet, the strain of having seen close to 70 patients (which is the average number on any given day) does not show on her face, as she smiles affectionately, looking like a young girl herself and getting ready to talk about her work and her passion.

A graduate of the Kilpauk Medical College, Dr Mala Raj enrolled in Ramachandra Medical College in 1997 for her post graduation. “After I finished my studies, I was very clear about specializing in an area that would be useful to women. At that time, laparoscopic surgery was new and such procedures were just being introduced. It felt like the right specialty for me to take up. I started working on getting trained and went to the University of Kiel (Germany), where I trained in this as well as in reproductive medicine.”

When she came back to India and started working Dr Mala Raj found very few places offering such procedures. There was also not much knowledge in the area. “Now it has been almost 20 years – and I can say that I am probably one of the very few doing a lot of work in this field. Yes, my journey has been very rewarding, but it has also been long and very hard.’’

To come to this point couldn’t have been easy. From being a consultant at various hospitals and medical centres, to attending conferences and training programmes and to now owning a renowned hospital exclusively for women and their medical issues, the hours of life seem sorely inadequate.

That is because unlike many fertility centres where laparoscopic surgeries and fertility treatment are handled by different doctors, Firm Hospitals is the one place in Chennai where Dr Mala Raj does both. She feels that as both specialties go hand in hand, it is mandatory to have the same doctor addressing both these areas. Her special skills are Total Laparoscopic Hysterectomy (removal of uterus laparoscopically) and Laparoscopic Myomectomy (removal of fibroid laparoscopically) and to date, she has handled more than 10,000 cases. That apart, she is also on the faculty of the Ethicon Institute, where she teaches the nuances of Laparoscopic surgery to post graduates and gynecologists. Indeed, many gynecologists visit Firm Hospitals to learn Laparoscopic surgical skills from her.

Today’s women are different, she says. They are knowledgeable and empowered. They need special comforting and a compassionate treatment facility, where patients receive personalised care and feel at ease

‘’When I started off, I was also young and with a family. I had to juggle my life at home and as a doctor. It was very hard but somehow I managed and am still doing so. It is only about time management and the commitment.’’

Lauded for being technically sound and considered one of the best laparoscopic surgeons, Dr. Mala Raj deals with all types of gynecological issues – “I am an obstetrician and a gynecologist. Yes, as you mentioned, I am rated one of the best laparoscopic surgeons. Earlier such procedures would be done as an open surgery. Whether it is a fibroid removal or a hysterectomy, it would be an open one and it also meant a fairly prolonged hospital stay and after care. With the skill sets of laparoscopic methods, I can do a fibroid removal as large as a 2 kg mass, laproscopically and safely. But let me also say that it is by no means easy. It is a challenge because you also need to be specially skilled to do this and also have the required equipment and gadgets for it. At Firm Hospitals, I have invested in the latest equipment from Germany. There is absolutely no compromise on the quality of treatment and the safety of my surgeryand of my patients.’’ The hospital stay for laparoscopic surgeries is not more than two days and the patient can go back to normal activities within a week or so. A big advantage indeed!

Dr Mala Raj feels that as science and treatments are advancing, the lifestyle changes bring their own woes. Infertility, fibroids, cancers, obesity, late childbirth and other issues start earlier than it was known before. You have a 20-year old who is diagnosed with cancer; or you could have 28/29-year old with ovaries not producing enough eggs so fertility becomes a problem; then there are those who postpone having children because of their career advancement; polycystic ovaries; hormonal disorders, menopausal issues – all these and more affect women across the board and Dr Mala is no stranger to any of these issues in her patients.

Dr Mala also does the fertility preservation procedure especially in cases where there are cancerous growths in the uterus or the ovaries in young girls. This is done so that once treated, they have a chance at having babies later.’’ Basically I believe in a holistic approach to treat women. Whatever problems women come here with, I approach it in a manner that is inter-related. If you focus on one part only then you will not be aware of the other aspects and cannot treat the problem as a whole. I truly believe in treatment of everything under one roof – there is continuity then and I am also capable of handling different aspects of a problem.’’

Again Dr Mala Raj is aware of how much to push for any procedure. When it comes to conceiving, if all tests fail and there are practically no chances for natural conception, only then does she resort to IVF/ICSI. ‘’Once the conception occurs, I am there to take care of the patient all through the pregnancy and the delivery.’’ So the entire journey of a woman is completed in Firm Hospitals without running from pillar to post at various hospitals. Every patient gets individual attention from Dr Mala Raj herself.

‘’I am probably the only doctor in Chennai doing all this by myself. I ensure I am always skilled, and constantly update myself to be able to handle all aspects of a woman’s well being.

Cosmetic procedures represent another area Dr Mala Raj specializes in. An important constituent that deserves a special mention happens to be a relatively new specialty that helps women who have been suffering silently. In many cases it happens that after two or three children the loosening and laxity of the vaginal muscles lead to sexual dissatisfaction – causing psychological trauma and in some cases, marital discord and unhappiness. ‘‘Instead of the surgical procedure, we have the latest Theriva Radio Frequency Energy, which is a non-invasive method of tightening the vagina. There are only three centers in India – Delhi, Mumbai and one here at Firm Hospitals.’’

It is a fairly simple, hardly 20 minutes in OP, no-anesthesia procedure where one can go back to normal sexual life the same day, she says. ‘’I went to California to get trained in vaginalplasty and labioplasty,’’ she says.

Dr Mala Raj has a solid team of consultants in every area backing her efforts and expertise and together function very well as a holistic unit.

So far it has been work, work and more work for the enterprising doctor. But she is not one to rest on her many laurels. Constantly updating herself on the latest developments in medicine and research, Dr Mala Raj never compromises when it comes to updating herself on what the rest of the world is practicing. She works hard and rarely allows for distractions in her routine. The totally committed lady is also very excited indeed about her future. “I want to get into robotics, which I believe is the next big thing.” With such a busy schedule, a roaring practice and a great reputation, does she feel there is anything she is missing on? “Well, I know what I want and I make sure my family is well taken care of. The only thing I guess I lose out on because of all my work is a social life! But I don’t have a choice now as I’m completely dedicated to my profession.’’

Dr Mala Raj’s commitment and her meteoric success are truly inspiring. ‘’When I started a hospital, most people felt I would not be able to handle such a venture – a lone woman trying to do everything. But I went ahead with a promise I made to myself – that I would handle every single one of my patients with dedication and with empathy. You have to have that passion, conviction and drive that you can do it. That’s all. Your success is guaranteed.”

Firm Hospitals is at 65, R-Block,

Anna Nagar, Chennai.

Call +91 4426262666/

+91 99529 92618 / +91 96772 22618.

Email : drmalaraj@firmhospitals.com