Presenting Harmony's silvers - sparkling lives, success stories, accounts of endurance, courage, grit and passion

Oh, baby!

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Dr Indira Hinduja, 68, Mumbai

IVF Pioneer and creator of India’s first test-tube baby

It’s been many moons since a young doctor raced down a corridor at Mumbai’s KEM Hospital and burst into a solemn medical conference to share some explosive news with her seniors—she had made medical history, having just ‘created’ India’s first ‘test-tube baby’.

That was 31 years ago but the incident is indelibly etched in Dr Indira Hinduja’s memory. “One of my IVF patients had just tested positive on her pregnancy test,” she recalls. “The chairman announced it to everyone in the conference hall; there was a journalist present and the news was in the papers the next day. I had to take a lot of flak for allowing this historic development to be reported without the permission of the hospital authorities.”

Nine months after her breakthrough moment, the nation waited with bated breath for its first IVF baby to be born. (IVF, or in-vitro fertilisation, takes place when the egg is fertilised by the sperm in a Petri dish and implanted in the uterus.) On 6 August 1986, media frenzy outside Jaslok Hospital reached fever pitch. “The moment arrived at 4.10 pm, when I performed a caesarean section on 24 year-old Mani Chawda and delivered a beautiful baby girl,” says Dr Hinduja. Only 37 years at the time, she did not rest on her laurels, going on to pioneer the gamete intrafallopian transfer (GIFT) technique, resulting in the birth of India’s first GIFT baby in 1988; and develop an oocyte donation technique for menopausal and premature ovarian failure patients, resulting in India’s first baby from this technique in 1991.

Dr Hinduja’s achievements are all the more remarkable as she was raised in humble circumstances, in Belgaum. Her family struggled to make ends meet and she studied in a municipal school before coming to Mumbai for higher studies and a degree in medicine. It wasn’t long before she was pointed to her intended path. “I used to stand at this bus stop in Parel, Mumbai, every day and stare at a sign that read ‘Institute for Research in Reproductive Health’ [IRR, ICMR]. So I walked in one day and was told that they conducted research on animals.”

Unbeknownst to the curious doctor, history was already in the making—this was the time that news of the world’s first IVF baby, Louise Brown, was making the rounds. Dr Hinduja was mesmerised and this fixation prompted her to research IVF in India. She secured permission from the IRR to conduct trials on women there. “I would collect eggs from patients in KEM Hospital, carry them to IRR for fertilisation and transfer them to the women’s uteruses.” After several attempts, in December 1985, one of her patients, Mani Chawda, got pregnant. The rest, as they say, is history. “We were not meant to have a child but Madam made it possible,” says Chawda, who named her daughter Harsha. “We consider her a god.”

For Dr Hinduja, that single moment made all her struggles worthwhile. “I was happy the world would know that my treatment was scientifically and ethically correct. The birth was an important milestone, not only for me but in the field of medicine. It brought a ray of hope to many more mothers who conceived through IVF.” Later on, Dr Hinduja set up a private practice, Inkus IVF Centre in southern Mumbai, along with a friend and colleague, Dr Kusum Zaveri. Initially, they conducted their research and treatment at their facility and later established a practice at P D Hinduja Hospital in Mumbai.

Indeed, Dr Hinduja’s research on assisted reproductive technologies has offered hope to thousands of childless couples across India. She’s lost count of how many but says with a twinkle in her eye, “Maybe 15,000 or more, and each case different from the other. There are so many women out there who opt for late parenthood owing to careers or family responsibilities. Why should they put a full stop to their careers just because it’s time for a baby?”

Her own career is peppered with many special moments but there’s one that’s especially sweet. Harsha, now 31, gave birth to a baby boy last year; the baby was delivered by Dr Hinduja and Dr Zaveri. “I am happy that 30 years later, the same team delivered my baby too,” says Harsha with a smile. “I hold Dr Hinduja in very high regard. She’s like a second mother to me.”

  • My success story: “Harsha’s birth was the biggest moment of pride and joy for me. It was a dream come true for me.”
  • Challenges: “My journey has been full of hurdles, like lack of help, encouragement, and funds and resources, but that single moment made me forget all my problems.”
  • Aspirations, goals and vision: “Qualities like patience and passion drive you to your goal. And statements like ‘I couldn’t do it’ or ‘I was not allowed to do it’ are mere excuses to not follow your passion. If you’re prepared in your mind, nothing can stop you from achieving your goal.”
  • Awards & achievements: Lifetime Achievement Award by Federation of Obstetrics and Gynaecological Society of India (1999); Dhanvantari Award (2000); Padma Shri (2011)

—Rachna Virdi

Photos courtesy: Dr Indira Hinduja
Featured in Harmony — Celebrate Age Magazine
March 2017