November 13, 2012
Jacqueline Colaco is a lady with an indomitable spirit and resilience. It is these qualities which have seen her through during the toughest phase of her life. She was a hockey player who represented the country in the national team in 1971 and was always active and chirpy. Her independent streak of mind was her forte and she never compromised on that even when she was affected with a debilitating disease like rheumatoid arthritis and that too at the peak of her life and career at 36.
Now at 63, she is single, financially independent, lives independently with help of domestic help, enjoying gardening, photography and also ‘lazing around’ as she puts it. She is actively associated with the Association of People with Disability rendering her valuable service to the organization which is striving for ‘equality and justice’ for people with disability.
One can say life has not been fair to Jackie. Imagine her situation! The hands that wielded the hockey stick with gay abandon were unable to even hold a book in her hands to read or even do simple personal chores like brushing, eating dressing and bathing, leave alone doing any other domestic chores. Jacqueline life story is awe-inspiring. With her fortitude to overcome adversity in life through her abundant fighting spirit, has made a difference to her own life and to the lives of thousands of people suffering from Rheumatoid Arthritis through the Arthritis Foundation (India) she established in 1995.
A Bright Spark
Jackie, as Jacqueline is fondly known to friends and acquaintances is a Mangalorean but born and brought up in Bangalore. Her grandfather was Dr Bonavincher Colaco and her father had studied at St Aloysius College in Mangalore. Her mother was the eldest of the 17 children belonging to a well known family in Bangalore. Being a Railways employee her father had a transferable job and hence the family went on to live in different places but settled in Bangalore. Jaqueline is the youngest of the 7 children and she was an active girl who showed interest in sports. She played hockey for Mysore state between 1964 and 1968 and then went on to represent the country in the nationals.
Of the 7 siblings only Jacqueline is afflicted with rheumatoid arthritis, a disease which had also affected her mother. The disease is said to have no cure and can be managed with drugs and surgeries. “I never questioned the sagacity of ‘why me alone’ kind of factor. I think it is the positive attitude in me that did not allow me to even think on that line”, is her answer on how she coped up with her disease at a time when everything was going great for her.
Overcoming stereotypes where girls were expected to become teachers or secretaries those days, Jacqueline studied B.Com and chose to become a banker and joined Bank of Baroda in Mumbai. “Everyone including my father expected that girls should become teachers or secretaries in office. I had an independent mind and always went by what I wanted. My siblings often tease me saying I always had my own way”, she reminisces.
Life was going great guns for this beautiful go-getter who was then posted to Bank of Baroda’s branch in Ney York in the 80’s. She experienced stiffness in her legs one fine morning and she tested positive for rheumatoid arthritis when she was in her mid 30’s, just at the pinnacle of her career. She says “I was fortunate to have the best of advice in New York in the beginning stage itself. I also feel into good medical hands when I was diagnosed for rheumatoid arthritis”. But she never felt questioned her fate even in time of distress. Luckily for her when she was in New York her brother-in-law Alan Nazareth was posted as Consulate General in New York and he proved to be of great help to him.
After four years of her term in New York she came to Bangalore but the change of weather from the cold climate did not show any improvement in her. She had four joint replacement surgeries at a young age two at the knee and two at the waist. Yet she was always in pain and she had developed deformity in the form of twisted fingers and feet. Finally Jackie resigned from her job in 1995 after putting in 25 years of service at the bank as she felt she was not able to cope and more so because she did not want to be a burden to the organization.
After resigning from the job she decided to reach out to other people like her afflicted with this debilitating and crippling disease. She co-founded the Rheumatoid Foundation (India) with Dr Thomas Chandy in Banglore. The foundation is based at HOSMT (Hospital for Orthopaedics, Sports Medicine, Arthritis and Trauma) on Magrath Road. The main aim of the foundation is to reach out to arthritis patients to help them cope up with the ailment, provide treatment options, create awareness and also collect funds through programmes, especially for helping poor people for medication and surgeries.
“Rheumatoid arthritis is a crippling disease but in my case it was not that severe and I was not bedridden. May be my positive frame of mind proved to be my greatest strength”, she professes. Despite all her valor she did go through a bout of depression for a brief period of 2 years when she had to go out of the cocoon of her parent’s home and stand on her own. But again her positive attitude helped her go through that period.
Reaching out to People in Need
The Arthritis Foundation completed 15 years in 2011 and Jacqueline has handed over the reins of the Foundation to Dr Chandy as she felt a worthy successor was necessary to continue the work of the Foundation. Now Jackie is associated with the Association for Physically Disabled, of which she is the honorary Treasurer.
Her fortitude, power of resilience and zest for life is evident from the fact that she has written her autobiography “Me, Jacqueline, on My Way” with the help of a single finger of her left hand, sharing her life experiences. The book was released last year to coincide with the completion of 15 years of Arthritis Foundation (India). “I used the mouse with my right hand index finger and the finger has taken the shape of that position”, she says sardonically. Armed with a ‘never say die’ spirit she regularly takes part in the Bangalore Marathon in her wheelchair.
It seems her troubles are never-ending ones. In the last few years she is suffering from epileptic attacks. The positive side of it is that ever since epileptic attack her arthritis has almost disappeared. “For the last 26 years I was on painkillers but now I am out of it for the last one year. I am on medication for epilepsy which makes me drowsy”, she points out.
Jackie who lives in a rented house in Fraser Town in Bangalore says “I have led a life of contentment & fulfillment. Now domestic helps are my indulgences as I have no dependents. Soon I am planning to move into a home for the aged and I absolutely fine about the idea”.
Jackie is no doubt an epitome of courage, forbearance, resilience, dedication and positive approach to life. One can but marvel the way she has handled her life with her positive outlook especially at a time when her life and career came crushing down like a pack of cards. Needless to say she is an inspiration to people facing similar troubles and hardships in life.