Caring Abu Dhabi doctor goes to great lengths to boost cancer fight

Dr Yogesh Shastri grew his hair for two years in order to donate his locks to a charity making real-hair wigs for young cancer fighters

Dr Yogesh Shastri grew his hair for two years in order to donate his extra long locks to charity.  Reem Mohammed/The National
Dr Yogesh Shastri grew his hair for two years in order to donate his extra long locks to charity.  Reem Mohammed/The National

Abu Dhabi doctor Yogesh Shastri has dedicated his life to caring for others.

So when he had an emotional encounter with a young child battling cancer, he was determined to do his bit to help out.

As a gastroenterologist at NMC Healthcare, fighting the deadly disease is not typically part of his day job.

But that didn't stop him from going to great lengths to bring smiles to the faces of brave youngsters living with cancer every day.

His meeting with the son of a patient in 2017 brought home another crushing consequence of cancer, hair loss at a young age.

Adults and children often lose their hair as a side effect of chemotherapy treatment for some cancers.

While some patients choose headscarves during their treatment, others opt for wigs made from human hair, donated by cancer supporters like Dr Shastri.

The father-of-two found it difficult explaining to his young daughter why he was growing his hair, but explained his efforts were for a worthy cause.

“Coming across bald children, women and men in my hospital was very difficult, as I knew what pain they were undergoing,” he said.

Dr Yogesh Shastri prepares to bid farewell to his flowing locks, grown in order for him to donate to a cancer charity providing children with real-hair wigs. Reem Mohammed/The National    
Dr Yogesh Shastri prepares to bid farewell to his flowing locks, grown in order for him to donate to a cancer charity providing children with real-hair wigs. Reem Mohammed/The National    

“The son of one of my patients who was suffering from cancer visited me in my out patient clinic about two years ago.

“He had lost all his hair due to chemotherapy.

“While talking with him I realised just how disconcerting it is to lose your natural hair.

“It inspired me to grow my hair so as to donate for these kind of patients.”

Hair loss occurs in patients undergoing chemotherapy as the treatment targets all cells in the body, both healthy and cancerous.

Hair follicles, the skin structures filled with tiny blood vessels that make hair, are some of the fastest-growing cells in the body, so in some cases are destroyed by chemotherapy.

Dr Shastri was told he needed at least seven inches of hair to donate to a charity that made wigs for cancer patients.

He decided to donate his hair to the Little Princess Trust, a UK charity collecting hair to make into wigs for children and young people that is partnered with his barber at Glamour Hair Salon.

Charities accepting hair donations in the UAE include the Sharjah based Friends of Cancer Patients.

It reports about 30 to 40 people donate their hair to be made into wigs every month.

Hair must be clean and dry, in good condition and of any colour.

It is five years since the FCP launched its Locks of Hope campaign, encouraging people to donate hair.

The charity has since received 'remarkable' support from Emiratis.

Dr Shastri is well aware of the challenges face by cancer patients, after training at Tata Memorial Hospital in Mumbai, the busiest cancer hospital in India and largest in south Asia.The hospital has an annual footfall of 65,000 cancer patients.

“Seeing so many patients and relatives wandering about in the lifts and on campus, was quite distressing,” he said.

“I had special empathy for the small children.

“It always made me feel sad so after a recent visit there, I wanted to do something to make a difference.

“I knew lots of female colleagues who had donated their hair before but I had not come across any man who had grown his hair for a cancer patient donation.”

Growing out his usually short, neat cropped hair was not easy, especially in the heat of summer and when in such a sterile work environment.

“It was very difficult to maintain my long hair,” Dr Shastri said.

“I found It had given me a completely different look to my personality.

“Most people who knew me found it acceptable, but it was quite strange for new people to see my appearance as a doctor.

“I had lots of pressure from my family especially my children who asked me to cut my long hair almost everyday.

“There is no better time to donate hair for the cancer patients than at the end of Ramadan.”

Updated: June 5, 2019 12:55 PM

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