Vinod Swaroop Saxena
1942 - 2020
From the minute we are born to the moment we take our last breath, there is the period in between it all … that we call life. A person who is born is destined to die. Death is a universal truth of life. Yet, the concept of losing someone near and dear forever, is something that’s difficult to grasp. Soon after losing a person who was as close as a family member comes the grueling process of making that announcement in the form of an obituary!
Dr. Vinod Swaroop Saxena has left a huge void in the epilepsy spectrum of India when he breathed his last on the late evening of July 20, 2020 - just 3 days after turning 78! Dr Saxena was one of the most prominent and energetic leaders who have contributed toward the resurgence of interest in epilepsy in the Indian sub-continent. In his near 50-year-long professional career, he achieved milestones that one can only aspire in his/her lifetime.
Vinod was born on July 17, 1942 in Lahore (now in Pakistan) to a doctor father (Bihari Lal Saxena) and a doting mother (Kalawati Saxena). He was the only brother amongst four siblings and was the apple of everybody’s eyes.
He had his initial schooling in the famous Bishop Cotton School at Shimla, one of the oldest boarding schools for boys in Asia. After having topped in the undivided Punjab state in Matriculation examination, he was the state topper in Intermediate examination also. In 1959 he joined the Maulana Azad Medical College, New Delhi and obtained the MBBS degree in 1964 with distinction and a gold medal in Social & Preventive Medicine.
Soon after graduation in 1964, he chose to join the Indian Army and saw action in the 1965 Indo-Pakistan war. He left the Army in 1969 after 5 yrs of exemplary service to begin a long career in the pharmaceutical industry and joined Sarabhai Chemicals, moving on to work with May and Baker in 1970. He then joined Reckitt and Coleman as a Medical Advisor in late 1977, which resulted in his moving with his family to Calcutta where he enjoyed a stay of 14 long years. While working with Reckitt and Coleman, he was the man behind introduction of sodium valproate not only in India but also in the neighbouring South-East Asian countries. He joined Sanofi in 1997 for a brief stint but soon left Sanofi and dedicated rest of his life to the cause of Epilepsy. In between, he was an adviser to a few pharma companies.
I first met Dr Saxena around 1985-86 when we were preparing to host the 18th International Epilepsy Congress in New Delhi. I was a young neurologist who had just entered my 30s and working in the AIIMS, New Delhi while at the time Vinod was already at the height of his professional career, being the Medical Advisor to Reckitt and Coleman, then a leading pharmaceutical company in India. Despite the difference in the scale of achievements and age between us, he always treated me like a professional colleague while we worked together for the 18th IEC and treated me like a younger brother whenever we met socially. I experienced and realized very early one of his great gifts, that he treated everyone he met or interacted in a very cordial manner.
Vinod worked as a wonderful team member and was always a trouble shooter for our small team consisting of Prof MC Maheshwari, Dr PK Sethi, and me that was handed over the responsibility by the Indian Epilepsy Association (the Indian Epilepsy Society didn't exist then), for hosting the 18th IEC for the first time ever in a developing country - a big challenge against all odds by any standard. After the successful organization of the Congress, Vinod played a pivotal role in the formation, growth, and development of the IEA-18th IEC Trust out of the unspent monies of the Congress. Ever since its formation in 1993 and over the last almost three decades, he made the Trust a vibrant organization. Under his stewardship the IEA-18th IEC Trust has been involved in various epilepsy awareness programs, dissemination of guidelines of management of epilepsy in India to physicians and neurologists through publications, supporting members of Indian Epilepsy Association and Indian Epilepsy Society to attend international conferences and even funding research projects.
Dr Vinod Saxena served with distinction both the Indian Epilepsy Association (IEA) and the Indian Epilepsy Society (IES). He worked as the Treasurer, Secretary General, and the President of both the organizations during his long stint as an office bearer. He was also a founding member of the IES. While working with him for over three and half decades, I learnt the "tricks of the trade" and succeeded him as the Secretary General and President of the IES and President of the IEA. I always looked up to him whenever I faced any problems and was honoured to have him as a friend whom I could call up for help even in the middle of the night.
Finally, there was Vinod Saxena the man. He rubbed shoulders with the who's who of the global epilepsy movement and he came from an incredibly cultured and respected family. However, not once in the decades that I have known him, did any of this have the slightest bearing on the way in which he treated friends, acquaintances, colleagues and the numerous people who importuned him every now and then. Whether you were junior or senior, exalted or humble, he treated you the same. He never turned anyone away as long as no rules were broken.
He led an exceptionally disciplined and fit lifestyle enjoying his time listening to music, watching musical productions, discussing politics and reading voraciously! Dr Vinod Saxena also enjoyed traveling extensively across the world and shared anecdotes with friends and family members. When he was free from his work, he enjoyed his club life with the family and friends, played golf, and swam during the weekends.
Those close to him would know of his being a connoisseur in food and drink. Had he chosen to be a Gourmet, he could have given a lot of food critics a run for their money. Having enjoyed his company on so many occasions in all parts of the world, I can vouch that he was also a wonderful host. There was no humbug about the man and he wore the vast knowledge that he had lightly.
Unfortunately, just three days after I last interacted with him regarding the possible treatment options for COVID-19, he contracted the dreaded disease, possibly while attending to the migrant labourers at a construction site across from his home where he often donated supplies! He spent almost 40 days in the ICU before his heavenly departure on July 20, 2020 just 3 days after his 78th birthday. It was a great relief that his son Saurabh managed to make it against all odds from Singapore to be able to spend the last few days with him. He fought COVID like a warrior but failed to win the battle against the dreaded sepsis during his prolonged stay in the ICU.
Dr Saxena’s entire time after his retirement was committed to epilepsy-related activities in India, the Asian-Oceanian region and globally. He was always very dedicated and diplomatic in his approach to complex issues. All of us in India have known him to be a very friendly and composed person with a great sense of humour. The epilepsy movement in India has lost a huge pillar of strength. What he could achieve in the last 3-4 decades will be difficult for anyone else to match. To me personally, he was like an elder brother with whom I interacted on a regular basis for professional advice and also exchanged every small happening in the family. He was very close to my wife Menka, our children, and even the grand-children.
With Dr Saxena's death, an era of refined leadership defined by consensus, humour, charm, wit, vision, intelligence and humility comes to an end not only in the Indian context but also in the Epilepsy scenario globally. His passing away leaves me personally bereft but I want to say that the life he lived was one to be celebrated.
Our prayers and condolences go to his wife Shobana, children Saurabh (and his wife Vandana), Surabhi and Laltu, and the grand children who have been devastated by his untimely death.
We in the Indian Epilepsy Association, Indian Epilepsy Society and the IEA-18th IEC Trust pray for the departed soul.
It's okay to miss you,
It's okay to cry!
Just know we'll never forget you,
This isn't a permanent goodbye!!
SATISH JAIN, MD;DM;FRCP
New Delhi (India)
July, 31, 2020
It was with great sadness that we learned eof the sad passing of Dr Vinod Saxena. From India, Vinod served as IBE Vice President Western Pacific Region from 2009 to 2013 and was a member of the IBE Regional Committee Western Pacific for several years.
As a member of the board, he was held in high esteem for his insightful contributions, delivered always with courtesy, diplomacy and, usually, a little wit. His love of life was infectious and his kindness to others did not go unnoticed. He was dedicated to supporting people with epilepsy to achieve the best possible quality of life and for his exemplary work he received the Ambassador for Epilepsy award in 1991. It was fitting that the award was bestowed during the 18th International Epilepsy Congress, which was held in his home city of New Delhi.
IBE would like to extend its sincere sympathy to his family with the hope that memories of happier times will help them through the difficult days that lie ahead.
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