Sunita Dodani, MD, Norfolk, Virginia
I am a physician cardiologist and polio survivor. I contracted polio in all four limbs at the age of 2 years. Today, I am 51 years old and have a beautiful life and family – a loving husband and a 16-year-old son. I faced many challenges growing up with polio in Pakistan. Yes, I was born in Pakistan, and we were minorities. Pakistan is a Muslim country and raising a Hindu woman with a disability is next to impossible. However, even though my family pressured my parents to give me to the orphanage, my parents provided me with extensive physiotherapy – day and night. My muscle strength in my arms improved, and after four years, I started to wear surgical braces for mobility and started walking slowly. Since then, these braces have been part of my body.
Becoming a cardiologist and a cardiovascular researcher was my mom’s wish. She always told me that what I had gone through – living life with polio in a country where there is no respect for women – would better help me understand patients' pain better and perform cutting-edge scientific research.
COVID hit us last year, and it has been more than 18 months now that we healthcare providers have been working day and night in hospitals. I am the Founding Director of a healthcare Institute where work has tripled due to the COVID pandemic. I am responsible for running the Institute and taking care of COVID-related work on patients. This has been very stressful, and on top of that, social distancing further exacerbated and limited my exercise. To keep healthy, I swam for 30 minutes at least four days a week. Social distancing and the closure of fitness centers has reduced my mobility. It’s been 18 months since I have been to a fitness center and swam. However, as we say, where there’s a will, there’s a way.
Since last year, I have started doing yoga every day for 30 mins. The beauty of yoga is that it can be done on a bed or in a chair. These yoga breathing and muscle strengthening exercises are easy for polio survivors to relax, alleviate COVID-related anxiety and stay calm during this unpreceded time. Further, being a physician cardiologist myself, I’ve always paid attention to what I eat, as every increase in weight causes a significant burden on our joints.
My message to all my fellow polio survivors is to stay active and move muscles by spending at least 30 minutes a day on yoga. There are tons of chair yoga exercises on the internet. Secondly, to remain safe, please get the vaccination if you have not already. This is important. Last but not least, eat a healthy, small amount and avoid unnecessary stress. Everything happens for a reason. This COVID has come. It will go, too. Just trust yourself and be happy, no matter whatever the situation is.