Some experiences change the thought patterns, and resolution of a person, while also making him or her embark on a new road. Dawa Tshering, 43, founder and executive director of the Bhutan Stroke Foundation, had a similar experience in 2019, transformed his life.
The year was 2019 and Tshering’s wife, Rinchen Pelmo, dearest to him, had a stroke. He was told by doctors that there were no solutions for the misfortune that had befallen him. However, Tshering could not consume it. He looked for all solutions, even seeking divine intervention. But his wife could not be restored to how she was before.
“A beautiful flower, my dear wife just withered,” Tshering says, his eyes filled with tears. “I did everything possible and I continue to believe that she will become the Rinchen Pelmo of the past, feed my children, cook for me, and share her jokes.” But, it is just hope! Pelmo lies on her bed, speechless.
The experience and trouble, Tshering had to go through changed his life’s objective. “I learned that her chances of survival and recovery could have been significantly increased if we had reached the hospital within 4.5 hours of the stroke,” Tshering adds. It was too late a realization for him. And it filled him with remorse for not having had the necessary knowledge about such an important life-saving matter.
“I looked at my wife, my children, and even myself. The mental trauma of having to see my wife in the state was heavy. I then thought about others, who would have faced the same predicament and those who would follow, if they were as ignorant as I was.”
He realized that the least he could do was to prevent others from enduring similar ordeals. He was compelled by a heartfelt desire “to spare husbands from the agony he had experienced and shield children from the suffering his own two children went through.”
Pursuing his mission, Tshering made the challenging decision to resign from his well-paying position at a Japanese non-government organization (NGO). It allowed him to focus all his energy and resources on raising awareness about the impact of strokes. Since then, he dedicated himself to educating individuals and communities about the importance of recognizing stroke symptoms, seeking immediate medical attention, and understanding the critical time window for effective treatment.
On November 5, 2020, he formed the Bhutan Stroke Foundation (BSF), a charity-based Non-Profit Civil Society Organization (CSO). The Foundation creates awareness on stroke prevention, supports stroke patients, and educates and assists families and caregivers on stroke care. Realizing the important role that BSF plays, it became a member of the World Stroke Organization in 2021. “We were given free membership,” Tshering says.
Towards the end of November 2023, the World Stroke Organization awarded him the prestigious World Stroke Campaign Individual Achievement Award. Speaking about the award, Tshering says it is not about himself. “It is a testament to the collective effort of many who have joined me in this cause. It is a message that while we cannot change the past, we can make the future brighter. The award is for everyone who has supported us, including our country.”
Tshering also shared that his story is just “one drop”. “There are many like me. And I am very happy that together we have been able to give them hope and meaning to life.”
The 43-year-old from Mongar has two children; a girl, who is 14, and another, who has turned 10. “I have become both father and mother to them. Life is a challenge and my kids have learned that a tragedy can sometimes pave a good road for one to follow. But deep inside, I know the pains they must be undergoing.”
Tshering recounts an anecdote where his daughter came to him and said. “Apa. I am very proud of you. You are saving many children like me by protecting their parents through advocacy.” “I was very happy, but tears rolled down my cheeks,” Tshering recounts.
Tshering shares that the Jigme Dorji National Referral Hospital reports four to five stroke cases per week, indicating a lack of stroke awareness among the population. “Time is crucial in stroke treatment, as getting medical attention within 4.5 hours can save lives and limit the impact of a stroke. Unfortunately, there are delays in patients seeking treatment and a lack of understanding about the financial, social, and emotional burden of strokes on individuals and their families,” he says. According to Tshering, there is also a lack of post-stroke rehabilitation services and a proper plan and policy for stroke care, which leads to a shortage of prioritized funding for operational costs and awareness programs.
Amongst many challenges, Tshering adds that one of the biggest challenges in Bhutan is the lack of funding and social support for stroke, especially in comparison to diseases like HIV, TB, and malaria. “There is a lack of evidence-based data and national policies or goals for stroke, making it difficult to address the issue effectively. In addition, limited human resources and insufficient project funding for operational costs pose significant obstacles.”
However, Tshering is determined to fight against all odds. Efforts have been made to raise awareness about the burden of stroke, including sharing personal experiences through various platforms such as social media, national TV, and radio in local languages.
It is said that every individual can make a difference. Dawa Tshering is a testament to this.
Sangay Rabten from Thimphu