“In March 2008, I lost my eyesight,” says 60-year-old Cruz Dev Prasad. “One night all of a sudden I felt nauseous and dizzy. I was rushed to the hospital where I was diagnosed with optic neuropathy. Within six hours I was blind.”
Cruz’ children were very young then – his eldest was three and a half years old and youngest, one and a half years.
Soon enough he lost his job.
“As time went by and my wife got back to work, I became lonely and depressed,” he says.
Out of the blue in February 2009, Dr Azad Moopen, Chairman and Managing Director of Aster DM Healthcare, called Cruz up - he had come to know about Cruz from the charity organisation, the Valley of Love. Dr Moopen wanted to know how he was doing.
Dr Moopen then arranged for a Nokia N97 mobile with a software called Talks for Cruz to use.
“It changed my life,” says Cruz. “Suddenly I could communicate with people once again. I could hear who was calling me. I could reach into my contacts and call other people.”
Every now and again, Dr Moopen would call or email Cruz and let him know about various new products and apps for the visually impaired. He would gift devices that made Cruz’s life easy. He also helped Cruz publish his book, Fabulous Five-star Foodies, in 2013.
“Then in 2015, Dr Moopen asked me to talk about my life experiences to his new employees at his corporate headquarters,” says Cruz.
“That was the beginning of a new journey.
“From someone who needed motivation, I became someone who delivers motivational speeches.
“Dr Moopen brought light into my life.”
For Dr Moopen, lending a helping hand is second nature.
“God has given me everything: health, a loving family, wealth, a lot of fame," he says. "I really appreciate all that. But beyond that, it’s helping people in need that gives you a sense of fulfillment and accomplishment."
God has given me everything: health, a loving family, wealth, a lot of fame. I really appreciate all that. But beyond that, it’s helping people in need that gives you a sense of fulfillment and accomplishment.
One of Dr Moopen’s treasured possessions, more valuable than his medical certificates and awards, is a letter from a patient’s brother that he received in the 1980s.
“I was a house surgeon at Calicut Medical College at that time. For days we tried to save this patient, but couldn’t. Still the family felt that I, along with the other doctors, did our level best. That’s the greatest satisfaction for a doctor.”
Dr Moopen has lost that opportunity to connect with patients on a personal level as he doesn’t practise now. But he is happy that in the past 15-20 years he has been able to build a large force who are able to touch millions of lives.
“I always say the best exercise for your heart is to lift somebody in need.”
Shalini Santhosh, Insurance Assistant at Aster DM Healthcare’s Insurance Department, got to experience this philosophy first-hand.
“Back in December 2011, my doctors in India told me I had only six months to live,” she says. “But I am still alive because of God’s grace, Aster and Dr Moopen.”
Shalini was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2004. She beat it with surgery and chemotherapy. But within a year of her diagnosis, her husband left her. Her son was only seven years old.
In 2009 the cancer recurred in her bones. In 2011, it spread to her lungs.
Misfortune hit her again in 2012 when the company she worked for 13 years closed down. “Many companies were happy to hire me but when they came to know that I was a cancer patient and that I would have to undergo chemotherapy every month, they all backed out,” she says.
“Then I approached Aster. Dr Moopen was very understanding and kind. He offered me a job.”
Initially, Shalini’s chemotherapy was for every 21 days. But for the past two years, she’s been going every week.
“My former company used to cut my salary for the days I would take off,” she says. “Aster doesn’t cut anything.”
When Shalini found it difficult to raise money for her son’s education – he had got a seat in Manipal University on scholarship – Dr Moopen stepped in without any hesitation.
Today her son is a BSc graduate in Information Technology.
“My dream has come true,” says Shalini. “The cancer may have spread to other parts of my body, but my son will now be able to stand on his own two feet.”
Growing up Dr Moopen saw his father who was also a freedom fighter do a lot of social service. He believes that exposure may have instilled in him an urge to do good whenever possible.
Dr Moopen also credits former Indian president, A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, of teaching him how to dream with his eyes open and feet firmly on the ground to realise his goal of helping more people.
“We are a very successful commercial organisation, but the philosophy has been to help people, because in healthcare profit has to be a byproduct,” he says.
Dr Moopen has already announced that 20 per cent of his wealth will be kept aside for people in need.
“I have three children and my wife, and the fifth heir to my wealth will be the needy,” he says.
Dr Moopen emphasises that the people in his organisation are also deeply involved in giving back.
“In the 30th year of our existence, we decided to give back through Aster Volunteers,” he says.
Dr Moopen aims to build a big volunteer force under the umbrella that includes Aster personnel as well as others to help people, especially in the field of healthcare. With about 7,900 people already signed up, it has set up medical camps for refugees in Syria and sent food aid to Somalia.
“I spend now maybe 20 per cent of my time and 20 per cent of my wealth on Aster Volunteers,” says Dr Moopen.
“Five or ten years down the line, when I am able to get out of the business and others are running it, I would like to spend 80 per cent of my time on it.
“That I think will have a tremendous impact.”