Every Tuesday, Megan Webber, Co-Founder of KnowTheGlow, starts her day with a 6:30 am zoom call with Dr. Himika Gupta and her team as they are winding down their day at 8 pm in Mumbai, India—which means Dr. Gupta is at the end of a very long and exhaustive day of seeing patients and surgery.
“It is all under control, you don’t want to know more.” is the light-hearted response Dr. Gupta gives her family when asked how her day was. In fact, the night before Megan’s most recent conversation with Dr. Gupta, she had been performing a midnight emergency surgery on a COVID-19 patient who had developed a rare fungal infection of the eye called a Mucormycosis that demanded immediate attention. Her work ethic knows no limits or boundaries nor does her compassion and commitment to providing the best care for every patient regardless of social status or financial ability.
Dr. Gupta was not raised in a family of medical professionals. She discovered her love of biology thanks to a beloved high school teacher with who she maintains contact to this day. Scoring at the top of her class on all the competency tests she went on to receive her MBBS (Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery) from the prestigious Seth GS Medical College and KEM hospital Parel in Mumbai. She then went on to receive her MS in Ophthalmology after her residency in Govt Medical College Nagpur(Central India). She thereafter began her innings in Ocular oncology at the LV Prasad Eye Institute (Hyderabad) as a research fellow in the National Retinoblastoma Registry under the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR). Thereafter, she trained at the KBHB Eye and ENT hospital in Mumbai and worked with the cancer genetics team at Tata Memorial Hospital, Mumbai. Her list of credentials, training, and expertise is extensive. She is currently affiliated with the B J Wadia Children’s Hospital (Parel) and NH- SRCC Children’s Hospital (Worli) for her specialized work in orbital plastic surgery and eye cancer.
(For a full list of Dr. Gupta’s credentials and education go to https://www.narayanahealth.org/mumbai/ophthalmology-paediatrics/dr-himika-gupta)
Early in her residency , Dr. Gupta witnessed how children with Retinoblastoma were low priority. Ingrained in her memory is the first patient she saw die from Retinoblastoma. It made an indelible mark on her and impacted the direction of her life and work’s passion. She explains that while many physicians choose to follow a path working with lucrative cataracts, she realized halfway through her residency that cataracts were not her calling. Always the overachiever, after finishing her work and duties as their ophthalmology resident, she would then go assist the plastic surgeons. This, too, made a huge impression on Dr. Gupta and helped guide her future choice to specialize in Ocular Oncology and Oculoplasty.
While at LV Prasad in Hyderabad, she became entrenched in some exceptional Ocular Oncology and Ophthalmic Plastic departments.
The next chapter of her life would take her to the other side of the world. An opportunity opened for Dr. Gupta and her husband to work in Canada. Pregnant with their first child, they accepted the challenge and traveled to Toronto. She further focused her interests when training in Canada, at the Hospital for Sick Children, the University of Toronto, and the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre. She additionally worked at the Ocular Oncology Service at Princess Margaret Cancer Centre (Canada). Highly sought after for her expertise and knowledge in the field of Ocular Ophthalmology and Oculoplasty, she was then forced to make a decision and to find a way to manage the hardest balancing act of all–new mother and full-time doctor. To this day, it was the most difficult decision she has had to make; turning down a coveted research post with Dr. Brenda Gallie at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto (https://knowtheglow.org/know-the-glow-interviews-dr-brenda-gallie/). Removing herself from India to see how patient care was managed in another country was extraordinarily helpful for both Dr. Gupta and her husband. Soon though, the pull of her homeland and worry about who would take care of the people of India brought Dr. Gupta, her husband, and their young daughter back to Mumbai.
With an evolved perspective from her work abroad, she brought to India even greater attention and sensitivity to treating each patient as a person and not just a diagnosis. The sheer number of patients in India often negatively impacts the quality of care the average person receives. For every 1 patient in Canada, there are 10 patients in India. Be that as it may, Dr. Gupta was determined to apply the standards she had observed in Canada and give more personal care and time to each patient she treated in India. “It is good to do Robin Hood work,”
Dr. Gupta stresses, “It is difficult to ignore the people in need.” She believes that each person, regardless of economic status, should receive the best care possible. She stresses that lack of compliance has less to do with education and much more to do with mentality. “You need to give everyone a chance and try not to be too quick to judge a patient.” It is easy as a doctor to give off the signal of “my way or the highway” but Dr. Gupta believes it is important to give each patient’s family the room to make their own choices – even if she may not agree with those choices – while still staying involved and guiding the patient to their best overall care and decision.
She also believes that good training is important, which is why one of the many hats she wears is that of a part-time professor (at MGM Medical College and University) so she can help to sensitize new doctors and medical students. She jokes that the older physicians won’t listen or change so it is vital to make an impact on the young and impressionable medical students.
In the urban slums of Mumbai, Dr. Gupta took the reins of Ophthalmology at the MRVC Urban Health center, which had the right team and the necessary equipment but needed assistance with the organization. With committed people and intuitive practices, they are able to serve many in the community. Dr. Gupta was able to accomplish several objectives for the center – a private clinic, a teaching hospital component, and also a charity component. Impressed by the work they were able to do she hoped to continue to train more people as she believes that India doesn’t always invest well in the support staff. While many institutions will have top-notch doctors and clinicians, they may not make the same effort to attract and continue to train the highest caliber nursing and support staff.
Focus Vision Five, her most recent collaboration, works on combining all of these wishes together and is a direct reflection of Dr. Gupta’s work in that it addresses multiple components. Her commitments include training nurses and healthcare workers, building their empathy, working with rural communities of India, and assisting with efficient referrals to ensure proper treatment and aftercare. Focus Vision Five will develop all of these elements. In its first phase, it will provide sensitivity training to medical students and in its second phase, it will provide training for health workers in India.
All of this Dr. Gupta does while simultaneously developing international collaboration and connectivity!
As a next step, Dr. Gupta would love one day to see a change in the screening of babies at well-child clinics where early detection of eye abnormalities is often missed due to a lack of red reflex testing on newborns. This is the next problem that Dr. Gupta would like to address. She also notes that her recent exposure to the Arclight, an inexpensive and portable version of the ophthalmoscope, would actually serve this purpose well. She was provided with some sample Arclights to use by Dr. Andre Blaikie (https://knowtheglow.org/dr-andrew-blaikie/)
and was extremely impressed with her experience. Dr. Gupta used them in the operating room as well as in fundus testing. She found them to be not only easy to use but also just as effective as the traditional ophthalmoscope without all the challenges of the latter. Such a device could be used in the well-child clinics to help catch early diagnoses of childhood eye problems.
Finally, Dr. Gupta shared that she really wants to reach out to those patients who have abandoned treatment. In 2019, she held her first workshop for social workers on Retinoblastoma. Her goal was to customize their counseling program. For example, in one group of 20 parents, not a single one even knew of the genetic component of RB. For this reason, she is working to train optometrists, nurses, and social workers on the importance of awareness, early diagnoses, and also genetic counseling.
For all of these reasons and many more, KnowTheGlow is proud to highlight the work and career of Dr. Himika Gupta and to collaborate with her and her incredible team on the creation of the Focus Vision Five training module for India.