Braving Tsunami and a Kidney Failure to build India’s largest Dialysis Chain


Kamal D Shah

Growing up in Hyderabad, Kamal D Shah had an ambitious disposition similar to thousands of young people across the country. To Grow, see the world and move upwards in his professional career. In 1997, he graduated from Osmania University with a degree in Chemical engineering and was all buckled up to fulfil his predestined ambition by moving to the US for his masters. But, the unpredictability of life stepped in.  Before moving to the US, Kamal was scheduled to take a compulsory vaccination. After taking the vaccination, he started developing a slight fever that eventually added to symptoms of nausea and vomiting. A visit to the doctor revealed that he had a disease called atypical Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome (HUS), which translates to kidney failure – probably a genetic disorder that he inherited.  He was 21 at the time and the stirring revelation obliterated everything in way of his dreams and projections. But Kamal was not one to stay under the rubble. He was put on dialysis immediately. It was the first time he was dealing with something like this and there were immense complications. From Acupuncture, acupressure to natural medicine, he went on try anything plausible that people would suggest. A year and a half later, it was deemed that a Kidney transplant would be the best way to go about it.  His mother donated the kidney, and in November 1999 he had his kidney transplant. “Statistically, 99% of the kidney transplants are always a success. In my case, the transplant failed, and I had to be put back on dialysis. It was a major setback in my life. I had to let go of almost everything that I yearned for. My mother had donated her own kidney but the transplant failed. I had to get back on the dialysis – Haemodialysis.” says Kamal.   

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The process of dialysis was significantly stalling. But, Kamal’s voracious search for a better process led him to another form of dialysis called Peritoneal Dialysis (PD) which could be done at home. After consulting his doctor he started preparing for that. His quality of life improved significantly with that. Where he once spent hours every single day with normal dialysis, with PD he just did for once in a week. An easier routine set in – a semblance of a stable life came back – and he started working as a Mac software developer for a friends company. The work was good, the company was growing, and Kamal was growing along with it. He almost forgot his ordeal and also started moving outstation for holidays. It was during once such blissful excursion to Mahabalipuram in 2004, that life sent in another tectonic tremor. This is when the Tsunami of December 2004 had hit. He was in a cottage on the beach with his friends when the cataclysm of water attacked it. He almost drowned, barely managing to hold onto life. When he regained from the tsunami shock, it surfaced that he had he had been infected in the exit site of his PD. He was told to switch from PD back to Haemodialysis. Life a did a literal U-turn, again.   

He was frustrated with the switch, and he started looking for alternatives online. Finally, in 2006, he structured his own dialysis setup and started doing his own dialysis. “I had learnt everything about it, all the details and it was a massive improvement. I wanted to spread the word around it”, he adds.  Kamal started a blog about his struggles in 2006 and found immaculate success with it. The blog by Kamal D Shah rose up the ranks and appeared on the top of google results for the term ‘dialysis’. It brought in a new era in his life.

One day, he received an email from someone called Vikram Vuppala. Vikram wrote that he had moved back to India recently from the US and wanted to start something in India related to healthcare. He had read Kamal’s blog and spent hours on it. They both decided to meet up and discussed the prospects of the business. Kamal had expansive first-hand medical knowledge about dialysis, and Vikram had a thorough knowledge of how to run businesses. The duo realised that many people in India had no idea about PD and most couldn’t afford the same liberties that Kamal had. “From there, we decided to start NephroPlus – a one-stop shop for all of a dialysis guest’s needs. In March 2010, we opened our first centre in Hyderabad. Even though it was a sophomore business, it had started on a good note. Whoever tried our services appreciated it. What we did differently was, we made the approach very simple.” adds Kamal.   

Kamal D Shah - NephroPlus

Their patients, he says, are called ‘guests’ so that they wouldn’t think of themselves as diseased. NephroPlus organises yearly sports event, NephroPlus Olympiad, where their ‘guests’ participate in sporting competitions. They also organise ‘Ashayein’, a one day free, educational cum fun event for dialysis patients. They patients play games, have fun, and interact with doctors from a wide spectrum of specialities. The guests also have the facility of ‘holiday dialysis’, where they can use NephroPlus’s dialysis while being on holiday – which is something that usual dialysis procedure cannot offer. “It received massive appreciation from the guests. Earlier they couldn’t leave the city because of their diagnosis, and now they live a normal life.”   The duo initially bootstrapped the operation, but eventually got the seed-funding from a private equity firm. The company has raised a total of $43.5 million. “We kept the quality very high, the procedure very approachable and affordable. We wanted to make sure that people had access to all the facilities without emptying their pockets.” And it was this consumer experience that led Nephroplus to become a chain of dialysis centres in the country. The company now has 183 centres with more than 2700 employees making it the largest dialysis chain in the country.   

The office of NephroPlus - An initiative by Kamal D Shah

“I remember we had just opened our Goa Centre, and whenever I would go there I asked the guests there about them, and take their feedback on how things are going. I remember this guest in Goa. She had been doing dialysis from a local provider and her experience was terrible. She was so exhausted after the process that she wasn’t able to walk for more than a few steps in a day. She would always be very tired, and lethargic. But then she heard about our centre, started using our dialysis process. She said that within 3 months, her life changed drastically. She was able to walk far much more; she was able to move and shift things too. She was feeling so much better, she’d started feeling very optimistic about her life.” says a proud Kamal. It is this renewed vigour in the face of dread that has helped Kamal and thousands suffering with a similar volition and condition. Asked about what his motto has been through all the hurdles, Kamal says he never thought of giving up. “I’ve always believed that whenever one door closes, another opens. I just didn’t want to give up. If something wasn’t working out, I would always start looking for an alternative”. Kamal strongly believes that being diagnosed with kidney disease is not the end of life. Rather, it is the beginning of a new life – albeit a slightly different life.      

Nephroplus runs the Aashayein Kidney Foundation to subsidise treatments – especially ancillary treatment associated with Kidney ailments –  for those who can’t afford it. You can donate to the foundation to extend a lifeline to someone in dire straits. Also, young volunteers are encouraged and welcome to provide support in organising Aashayein and the Dialysis Olympiad to support the initiative of Kamal D Shah

Contact Kamal D Shah

 

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