Forty-one-year-old Syed Rafath Parveen was back in New Delhi for the winter holidays. She was a teacher with two boys who studied in India. It had been four days since she’d been back from UAE. Enough time for smiles and hugs. Enough time to make plans. Enough time to taste her mum’s handmade delicacies. Not enough time to get enough.
Then, on December 19, came the torrential headaches that left her grasping for support. When her brother-in-law, neurologist Dr Anwar Alam, saw her degree of pain, he called for a CT scan. The report showed an abnormality – she needed to be admitted to hospital for further investigation.
She wouldn’t leave. Days later, a brain aneurysm – a swollen blood vessel that ruptured in her brain – would turn fatal. And when it did, she would save six lives.
The Brain Aneurysm Foundation explains that almost 500,000 deaths worldwide each year are caused by brain aneurysms. It’s a sudden condition that may be caused by a number of factors, but on that cold day in December when Rafat went into hospital, the reason remained elusive.
“Rafath walked and sat in the car [by herself] while going to the hospital and also got down from the car and walked into Emergency,” says her father, Syed Ahmed Alishah. She was admitted to the hospital on December 19 and soon her health began to deteriorate. A few hours later, the aneurysm would make her body go into distress.
She would need to be put on a ventilator.
Days later, as the family grappled with their new reality, they were given bad news. “Doctors declared her brain-dead at 14.43 hrs on 24.12.20,” says Syed Ahmed Alishah, her father.
A teacher through and through
Rafath had been a UAE resident on and off for about 16 years; her last job was at DPS Ras Al Khaimah. If there was one impression she left you with it was that of someone with a sense of humour. Her raspy voice would wobble when she’s thought of a joke and she’d laugh herself as she finished the story– it wasn’t a shy laugh, it was one that invited relaxed conversation and genuine grins, an acquaintance recalled.
This probably helped her with her students too, for whom Rafath ma’am, as she was known, would go the extra mile. “Rafath was very compassionate towards children coming from economically weaker section (EWS) of the society. She used to take special classes for them after school hours. Also she made lot of individual financial contribution to purchase books and stationery for EWS children. Her generosity was also extended to poor and needy people,” says Syed Ahmed Alishah.
In death she helped people live
When Rafath was declared brain-dead on December 24, her grief-stricken family had decisions to make – would life support carry on with so little hope of revival left? If not, what would the funeral be like? What could they say to themselves? How could the elders explain it to her sons aged 11 and 18?
They came to a decision. When life support was turned off that day, they signed the papers. Rafath would help people, even as her own family said goodbye to her. “It is well known fact that people hesitate to donate organs and several people die owing to non-availability of organs.
“When [the] doctors declared Rafath brain-dead which is a point of no return, we have decided to donate organs so that life of some people could be saved,” her father says.
In India, the rate of organ donation is low - at 0.86 donor per million, as reported by the initiative OrganIndia, launched by an NGO in the country.
Rafath’s organs were donated to six people. “In death, Rafath has given life to four people and eyesight to two persons,” he says, proud.
“Although it was a great loss in the death of our wonderful child we feel proud of her for noble act which we could do in the form of organ donation.”
Her husband, Shaikh Salim Durrani, adds: "We will miss her for our entire life...We are proud of her as her organs have saved life of 6 persons...hats off to Rafath for her generiously before her final abode."