Sandhya Cherian conquers frontiers in the face of personal loss
She is a fortress of strength, standing tall in the whirlpool of grief that hits her once in a while, but Sandhya Cherian, Vice President of Frontier Mediville, Director of Frontier Lifeline Hospital and Dr. K. M. Cherian Heart Foundation is glad that her daughters and her work keep her busy.
Four years ago Sandhya lost her husband. He passed away while asleep due to a massive heart attack. The loss was not only huge but also very unexpected. “It took us a while to accept this and move forward with our lives. I felt it was important for my kids to spend time with family back here in India, and hence I decided to return to Chennai two years ago from the US.”
At present, she is helping her father with administrative work at Frontier Lifeline Hospital, a Cardiac Super speciality Centre and at Frontier Mediville, a medical Bio- Science park. Sandhya says, “In India, there are many people who cannot afford expensive surgeries since the cost of implantables, consumables and disposables are very high. We felt that we could do some research to see if we could produce our own implantables at a lesser price. This is how the Research wing of Frontier Lifeline Hospital got started and this is the main ideology behind starting Frontier Mediville.”
Upon her return to India she had to face the harsh reality of a young widow’s life in India. She faced social isolation—people who were once very friendly and invited her family to weddings and other gatherings would now leave her out. Worse, even well meaning people would say things like—“well, you don’t look like a widow.”
It was as if people thought widowhood would transform me almost immediately into an old hag! But the discomfort didn’t end there. I guess we still live in an era where widows are considered to be a bad omen! Earlier on, this used to hurt me but not anymore. Episodes like this have made me realize who my true friends really are. These experiences have definitely transformed me, shaped my personality, and have made me a tougher person over these last couple of years. My message to other young widows would be to stay strong. Time is a great healer and your complicated social life will grow less awkward with time.
Partiality to medicine
Since both her parents were working in the healthcare sector, Sandhya spent a considerable time in hospitals and even today she enjoys the challenges that come up at work. Since her father was a cardiologist and Sandhya was good at science, she had hopes of following in her father’s footsteps.
Unfortunately, her dad was not keen on her pursuing medicine and was of the opinion that women cannot do justice to the medical profession if they have to juggle their professional life and family life simultaneously. “Hence, I was not permitted to pursue a profession of my choice! Unlike kids of this generation, who voice out their opinion and pursue their dreams, I did not have the courage to speak up and obeyed whatever I was told to do.”
Of the options available to her, biomedical engineering was closest to the career she had wanted to pursue and she moved ahead with it.
Her dad was among the first of many migrants to Australia and from there he moved to New Zealand. Sandhya spent her initial years in these two countries. When they returned to India, the family settled in Chennai and she did her Bachelor’s in Engineering in Anna University, Guindy. She also holds a Masters in Biomedical Engineering from University of Texas, and did her PG in Hospital Administration, Clinical Research and Pharmacovigilance.
In 1995, while pursuing her Masters she got married and worked for a couple of years at The Madras Medical Mission. She left for Bahrain where her husband took up employment. They stayed there till 2004 and then moved to the States.
Educating the girls of Elavur
Sandhya may not have had the chance to pursue the career of her dreams, but she has made sure her children have all the freedom in the world to do so. Along with her children she is involved in the work the Trust named after her father is doing to educate girls in Elavur.
Frontier Mediville is situated over 360 acres, some 40 kms away from Chennai at Elavur Village of Tiruvallur District. It is being developed as a one-stop destination for healthcare, education, training, research and contract research outsourcing activities.
Educating a girl is educating a family and an empowered girl of today, will empower her future family, and consequently the nation tomorrow. Driven by this idea, Frontier Mediville as part of its Corporate Social Responsibility imparts knowledge and training for the uplift of the socio-economic status of rural people. The programmes are not only aimed at providing education to rural women, but also creating employment opportunities for them.
Their educational trust has provided free education to twenty-one girls of under-privileged single mothers since 2007 in Elavur. All their academic needs like tuition fees, transport, books, uniforms and all other necessities are taken care of from the nursery level to the senior secondary level by this Trust.
Sandhya says, “The most appreciable aspect of this program is the smooth integration of these girls with the rest of the students, erasing their tag of being deprived. This programme is already showing results, with the little girls empowering their mothers!”
Sandhya excitedly talks about the difference she sees among the young girls of Elvaur village. Frontier
Mediville had selected six girls from poor families. Residing in Elvaur, these girls had completed their 10th and 12th standards and were picked up and were trained in various techniques of Biotechnology, Tissue Engineering and Nano coating technology, which requires very high levels of hygiene and sterility. These girls were provided with free food, accommodation and monthly stipends. Subsequently, these girls were employed in Frontier Mediville as permanent employees. Today they are independent, earning and role models for other girls. “When the young girls in the village see their role models driving a scooty, and going to work they get encouraged to pursue their education and follow in their footsteps!”Being a single mom
“The biggest challenge that I have ahead of me is the challenge of single parenting. It can be sometimes quite overwhelming when you have to juggle work, manage a home and raise two children on your own,” says Sandhya.
There are days when she feels quite exhausted and has little energy and time for other things.
I sometimes wonder if I am up to this huge challenge before me of educating my two girls, making them independent, and getting them married someday. But then I tell myself that I can do it and that I just have to pick up the pieces and go on with life. The best thing I can do for my daughters is show them how to be strong and resourceful individuals.
Sandhya’s father has been a great source of inspiration for her. “I have seen him at one of his lowest points in life, and yet he picked up the pieces at the age of 60 and came out flying like a Phoenix from the Ashes!”
Her kids also play a vital role in motivating her. “They mean the world to me and inspire her to be a better person.”
“Life can be sometimes really challenging and there are times when you will find yourself facing circumstances that demotivate you. Unfortunately, life will not improve if you do nothing about it, and for your condition to improve, you have to find it in you to push forward, no matter how hard it seems.” That is Sandhya for you –always strong and pushing forward!
Read: This doctor revolutionised laparoscopic surgery for thousands of women
Read: Aesthetic physician Rashmi Shetty is the face behind Bollywood
Read: Two women join hands to address infertility in women