Everyone will have a turning point in their lives that will alter the trajectory of their lives. Dr.NordanOtzer experienced two meaningful life turning points that permanently changed his dreams.
Dr.Nordan Otzer’s life was turned upside down by two ladies. His mother was the first. “It was the year 2007.” I was working in a remote Tamil Nadu hospital when I learned she had cervical cancer to her liver. “I rushed home, and she died a month later,” he recalls. It was a watershed moment in his life since, up until that point, he had aspired to work in a large hospital and settle down abroad.
Instead, he moved to his village of Hunder in Nubra Valley and began working as a medical officer at a neighbouring district public hospital.
“I received a phone call from Mr. IsheyTundup, the headmaster of a school in Leh, one day while working at the hospital.” Dr.Nordan says he could not locate one of his students, Sonam Dolma.
Dr.Nordan and a companion eventually found her in Nubra’s Digger settlement. Her parents were working in the field when they arrived at the house, and she was inside. “Because she had bone cancer, Dolma’s right leg had been amputated below the knee. I couldn’t tolerate the sense of helplessness I was experiencing since she was in excruciating pain. “We spoke with the parents and discussed having her treated in Delhi, assuring them that we would locate a sponsor,” he says.
This was his life’s second key turning point. Despite the severity of her condition, Dr.Nordan believed that they could at the very least help her live a pain-free life. They transported her to Delhi for additional treatment after finding a sponsor. Her legs had to be amputated below the hip since cancer had spread. She was doing well, pain-free, and she was even fitted with artificial joints.
Tragically, she died unexpectedly one day.
“After that, I decided it was time to call it quits. People, particularly women, needed to learn more about their bodies and physical health, particularly about reproductive health. He says, “I believed something needed to change.”
Since then, this ‘nomadic doctor,’ free of the constraints of a traditional hospital, has done a fantastic job of preaching the gospel of modern treatment in this distant corner of India
Dr.Norda was born and brought up in Hunder, a town known for its sand dunes and Bactrian camels. His father was a public-sector school teacher, and his mother was a farmworker.
He attended a neighbouring rural school called Diskit until Class VI, then transferred to the Sainik School in Nagrota, Jammu district, for Class VII.
“My father was a schoolteacher, and his salary was insufficient to cover the costs of my four siblings’ higher education, including mine.” “During the summer vacations, my brothers and I labored with our parents in the fields, growing vast quantities of veggies that we would supply to the Indian Army,” he says.
All four brothers, including Dr.Nordan, were inspired by their parent’s work ethic and worked tirelessly. He enrolled in CMC, Vellore, in 2000 and managed to graduate with an MBBS six years later.
Cervical Cancer Screenings And Creating Awareness
Dr.Nordan’s task in Nubra was to start a discourse about women’s health and break down all related taboos.
“When I mentioned the cervix or breasts, these women would blush and glance down. However, glancing into their eyes, I could tell they were pleased that someone was speaking up about these issues and creating awareness. I met nearly all of the ladies in Nubra during this one-year outreach project. “I told them about the signs and symptoms of breast and cervical cancer, as well as the need of getting regular exams, screenings, and treatment,” he continues.
He also contacted certain gynecologists in Singapore through his friends, whom he brought to Ladakh. He requested their assistance in screening and treating women for cervical cancer, as no one was doing so at the time.
“Hundreds of women showed up for screening as a result of our initial outreach,” adds the doctor, “including those who were healthy and had no symptoms or health difficulties.”
In the previous nine years, a group of doctors led by Dr.Nordan has examined about 10,000 women from around Ladakh under the name of the Himalayan Women’s Health Project, which began in 2010. One thousand of them had precancerous lesions.
“To cure these precancerous lesions, there is a non-invasive, low-morbidity, painless, and uncomplicated technique.” It’s known as the “screen-and-treat” strategy. Dr. Quek Swee Chong, a Singapore-based obstetrics and gynecology specialist who first met Dr.Nordan in 2009, explains that women are treated in a single visit to conduct the screening and diagnostic in one go.
Dr. Quek was one of the Singaporean doctors who assisted Dr.Nordan in this project. He describes the first several years of his experience as “fact-finding,” “getting a sense of the amount of disease prevalence,” and “building trust with the local populace.”
“We needed someone who had a firm understanding of local reality and a bond with the patients because we couldn’t speak the language, and Dr.Nordan was that person.” He was a linguist, facilitator, and, most importantly, he raised awareness of the screening concept among the local population. He went from village to hamlet and door to door to convince, encourage, and guarantee that the women felt safe, protected, and comfortable,” he continues.
These camps occur every year, with the most recent one taking place in Nubra three weeks ago.
Dr.Nordan’s other significant accomplishment is declaring Nubra a Tobacco-Free Zone. In 2011, the local community became more concerned about the increased number of schoolchildren in grades VI to VIII who smoked cigarettes and developed an addiction.
Dr.Nordan worked with the Women’s Alliance of Ladakh, a non-profit women’s organisation, and other moms in the region to increase awareness about the hazards of nicotine addiction, particularly among young teenagers.
The Nubra Valley retailers agreed not to carry tobacco products from Leh to keep youngsters from smoking. The region was proclaimed as a Tobacco-Free Zone within months.
Dr.Nordan, on the other hand, is quick to point out that the goal was not to outright outlaw cigarettes but to make them inaccessible to schoolchildren. Many more communities have followed suit, including Khalste and Durbook.
Healthy Ladakh Movement
In collaboration with the Ladakh Buddhist Association’s women’s wing, Dr.Nordan and his crew visited more than 200 villages in and around Ladakh, notably Sham, Leh, Changthang, and Zanskar, to discuss smoking and alcohol addiction, as well as women’s issues. The main focus, however, was on alcoholism.
Meanwhile, he began his humanitarian work in Ladakh’s far-flung reaches, scarce medical services. Dr.Nordan and his staff would provide free health screenings and medicine distribution. He took out a bank loan in 2012 to build a restaurant and cafe in Leh to pay for these free drugs.
What inspires Dr.Nordan to keep going?
“I lost my mother when I was very young, and I feel that no one else should have to go through what I went through.” People who know more about their bodies can prevent the bulk of ailments, which is the solution to our problems. “That is why I do what I do,” he explains.