From Heart Patient to Aspiring Doctor

S. Hema Viganeshwari, Age 20

For two years, Hema endured chest pain whenever she did strenuous exercise. When a doctor picked up a heart murmur and sent her for further tests, she was diagnosed with atrial septal defect at the age of 9. By the time she was 10 years old, she had undergone an open heart surgery to close the hole in the wall between the two upper heart chambers. 

Hema said that though the surgery was a success, her heart remained enlarged over the next few years. It meant that the Bharatanatyam dancer had to stop dancing for a year and put her diploma course at the Singapore Indian Fine Arts Centre on hold.  

Hema, now 20, relishes in role-playing in Bharatanatyam, an Indian classical dance originating from Tamil Nadu. She said: “I can be an ardent devotee in one song and an angry spouse in another. I take the audience to different worlds, though they may not all understand the language of the accompanying music.” 

It was a long road to recovery. Hema recalled: “My exhaustion and inability to catch up with others once I was able to go back to my classes put my condition in perspective for me. These challenges only lasted a year and while I still have to go for annual check-ups, I count myself lucky that my condition was discovered early and treatable.” 

She had to give herself time to resume her active lifestyle. This was because she got tired easily during dance classes.  Hema reveals that she initially relied on her classmates to carry her schoolbag and had to turn to them for support when navigating stairs around the school.  

Hema is now actively pursuing her twin passions of dance and medicine. She has started her first semester at the National University of Singapore’s Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine and is convinced that being a doctor allows her to contribute back to  society.  

Since young, she has heard countless stories of her parents’ experiences working in the healthcare sector. Her 53-year-old mother is a nurse while her 57-year-old father used to be a paramedic. Besides being inspired by them, she is also grateful for their support. She relates, “Following my surgery, they helped me to kick start my dance classes, scheduled extra dance classes for me, took time off their busy schedules to accompany me to and fro classes and even arranged performances for me to hone my craft.” 

Considering every Club Rainbow event she has attended as “fun and meaningful”, Hema counts a Bangkok trip with Club Rainbow one of the most memorable ones. 

Hema lives by the philosophy of “Never give up”. She reasons, “Think about it: If I were to give up, I would be at a standstill. But if I were to keep going, I would be closer to my goal than I was yesterday, so if you want something, put in your all to achieve it.” 

Hema is also thankful that Club Rainbow gave her the opportunity to befriend other children with congenital conditions and showcase her dancing prowess at various events. She said: “There were times when I felt that my passion for such a traditional art form would not extend beyond my Indian community. Club Rainbow made me realize that Bharatanatyam is an art form that can be appreciated by everyone. I would be honoured to return to Club Rainbow one day to teach dance or give tuition.”