When the US Embassy in Nairobi was hit by a terrorist’s bomb in 1998, Dr Prabha Choksey was one of the doctors appointed consultant at Aga Khan Hospital. On the fateful day, she had many patients booked at her clinic. She recalls operating over 36 people removing foreign bodies, stitching and cleaning the eyes. “I worked continuously for three days-day and nights,” she remembers.
Today, she is at the same hospital busy attending to children with albinism at her clinic in the Doctor’s Plaza. It is a Tuesday, a day she’s set aside to treat children with albinism only and for free. “God created each of us for a purpose in life. My purpose is caring for children with albinism,” she begins.
Dr Choksey is very talkative and laughs a lot. She can talk for hours just responding to a single question. To control the interview, you’re forced to stop her.
The award-winning ophthalmologist’s love for children started long time ago. She describes children as wet clay soil which can be moulded into sundry shapes. A child is a person who is potential to become anybody including a President, she believes.
Her focus shifted to children with albinism after learning the challenges they were facing. But, does just seeing the challenges people go through make one to start fighting for them?
“Not necessarily. How many people have seen others suffering without taking any action? How many people are filthy rich and cannot give out a single cent to assist the needy?” She poses.
For Dr Choksey, it is the legacy of love, caring and giving she learned from her parents. “My mother Sarla Gurusahani and father Dr Chimandas Garusahani gave me invaluable lessons of putting people first. That, holding the ladder for others to climb up gives you more happiness than climbing the ladder yourself,” she explained.
She was born in November 1951 in small town called Parbhani, India, before moving to Aurangabad where she was raised and schooled.
Her career would later be influenced by her father who was a doctor. However, her decision to specialise in ophthalmology came during her internship.
She explains, “I was on internship when l saw a photo of an ophthalmologist friend with a long queue of people waiting to be examined. Something told me ophthalmology must be an interesting career. She pursued it.”
Dr Choksey did her Masters in Ophthalmology from Government Medical College, and in 1977, and embarked on lecturing the same at the Government Medical College in Aurangabad.
Three years later, she moved to the Grant Medical College and J.J Group of Hospitals in Mumbai where she served as an assistant professor. Here, it did not take long before she was promoted to full professor and head the department of Ophthalmology.
In 1987, Dr Choksey left India for Kenya. She discloses that initially she’d no idea where Kenya was on the map of Africa. But being ambitious woman she resolved to face new challenges outside her country.
She got employed by Kenyatta National Hospital, as a medical officer with first salary of Sh 5000. She says, “I realised that India had many doctors like her. And Kenya was 20 years behind India as much as medical profession was concerned.”
She’s the one who introduced the use of Laser treatment in the country. She recalls despite her meager salary, she gave out her best, including teaching clinical officers, post graduate students and performing all sorts of operations.
It was in 1989 after joining University of Nairobi as lecturer that her salary was raised to Sh27,000. She’s proud to have taught many ophthalmologists in the country today.
After 10 years at UoN, she quit and joined the Aga Khan Hospital where she led the team of medical doctors who started fluoresce in Angiography and Laser treatment for diabetics.
Dr Choksey successfully juggled and balanced her responsibilities as the treasurer of the Ophthalmological Society of East Africa and as Editor-In-Chief of the East African Journal of Ophthalmology.
In 1999 she was appointed chair of the department of surgery at Aga Khan Hospital, and in 2002 and went into private work.
Dr Choksey who describes herself as career oriented and ambitious woman says that if she missed ophthalmology, she would be teaching children into good human beings. She laughs at the fact that some people tell her she can make a good pastor.
She is married to Dr Vidur Choksey, an Obstetrician and Gyneocologist practicing in Kenya. They were classmates at medical college and he was a cricket start celebrity. He proposed and the rest is history.
She explains that being a couple of doctors is a beautiful thing because it has helped them share a lot.
They have three children; Mithil a doctor in Connecticut, U.S.A, Tanuja who held the title of Miss India Global Kenya 2004 now living in California and Urvika who is a doctor.
She says her life is full of divided loyalties in three continents-India where she was born and studied, Kenya where she lives, got direction in life and reached new heights in her career and where she discovered her albinism passion and in USA, where her two children live and work.
Since young days of her life, she learned the technique of changing her personality/role with environment. It is reason she balances well her roles of a homemaker, a competent clinician with that of a numerologist.
She states, “l am a doctor in the office, and a mother at home playing all household roles. You would not believe l can play with little or my neighbour’s children.
DR PRABHA CHOKSEY is an award winning ophthalmologist who is fascinated by numbers. She shares with NANJINIA WAMUSWA about her life and passion for children with albinism.
Dr Choksey, who spends considerable of her time in prayers, says her lowest moment was when she lost her mother. She says, “It was sad she died in sleep in the presence of three doctors - my father, our doctor friend and l. She was only 40 years.
During her free time, she goes for bird watching, taking photographs with nature and spending time with children.
In her line of dedicated duty, Dr. Choksey has received numerous awards. In 1973-74 President of India awarded her ‘President’s Medal’ for being a woman standing first in the University for MBBS Examination.
She was recognized as Ophthalmological Society of East Africa’s Award for outstanding Contribution to Eye Care in East Africa in 2007.
In December 12, 2012, former Kenya President Mwai Kibaki awarded Dr Choksey an Honour of Moran of the Order of the Burning Spear (M.B.S) for her outstanding and distinguished services rendered to the Nation in the field of Ophthalmology and her Selfless and Generous Commitment to help Children with Albinism.
She also bagged Bharat Jyoti Award in March 2012 by India International Friendship Society (IIFS) for Meritorious services, Outstanding Performance and Remarkable Role.
Also, in June 2012, she won Gem of India in recognition for Individual Excellence and Contribution for the Progress of The Nation and Worldwide.
She says the awards mean somebody had seen and appreciating her work. Every award motivates her to do more. She explains, “You get an award and want to prove to yourself that you are worth it.”
Dr Choksey also loves numerology-the science of numbers. “It has been my hobby since childhood,” she shares. For example she cites number 9 as a mystery and business people all over the world know it.
She explains if an item is not selling, making the price to end with 99 makes it attractive to buyers. “Number 9 is the number of action speaking directly to sub-conscious and when someone sees 99 it says to his/her mind to buy it,” she explains of numerology.
She has also published a Numerology book, and The Beautiful Art of Parenting (My Journey) whose sales will go to support albinism children.
After a brief stay in Kenya Dr. Prabha Choksey learned children with albinism were being harassed; hunted and killed for meaningless witchcraft rituals. That, some fathers even disown their albinism children because of their skin colour.
In 2008 Dr Choksey jointly with others started Albinism Foundation of East Africa (AFEA) to care for children with albinism. The organization attracted some people who had no heart of helping albinism children.
She says, “Some people thought it was project to make money. They held meetings in five star hotels and gave talks in a clever way that excited donors.”
Dr Choksey quit after seeing a lot of money go to waste. Since she was still determined to help children with albinism, in 2013 she founded own Dr Choksey Albinism Foundation to reach out to people and children with albinism.
Her mission has been to empower and ensure every albino child is a blessing to the community. “Nothing gives me joy than seeing an empowered person with albinism,” says the ophthalmologist who is the voice of people living with albinism in Kenya.
She explains many children with albinism are poor and being raised by single mothers. They cannot afford the treatment.
It is for this reason Dr Choksey has dedicated Tuesdays to treat children with albinism-free of charge, and provides special glasses that correct their shortsightedness, that helps them to read and write.
She also pays fees (for primary, secondary and college/university) and feeds many people living with albinism. Dr Choksey reveals has almost 800 children with albinism on treatment, education and food. To her, people with albinism are precious.
Her name ‘Prabha’ means bright star. “I am living my name by shining the lives of albinism people,” she says. She derives satisfaction from seeing those she helps triumph.