God was harsh on Albin Joseph. His country's education system was harsher. Still, 18-year-old Albin from Marady village in Kerala's Ernakulam district has refused to bow down to the challenges life has thrown at him and is all set to join MBBS course this year. Behind Albin's success is a brave story of determination and never-say-die spirit.
Albin, second child of Shaji-Jisha couple, was born with 'split spine' defect on June 12, 2001. This genetic condition leaves a person's lower body paralysed with diminished control over bladder and bowel. Shaji, marketing manager with an Ayurvedic pharmaceutical firm, and Jisha, an accountant with another private company, came to know about Albin's handicap when he was four months old. “There was a swelling on our son's lower back. He was also not moving his legs. We took him to the hospital and found that he has split spine,” the parents said. He underwent nine surgeries before he turned 10.
After completing lower primary education at Holy Family LP School near his home, wheelchair-bound Albin joined Marady Government VHSS, where his two sisters also studied. “I studied in a normal school. My friends and teachers were very supportive. Neither my father nor my mother accompanied me to the school. The school authorities even built a special ramp to make the school premises accessible to me,” says Albin.
An excellent student, Albin was also a state-level participant in elocution competition in the school youth festival.
“I was a patient of Dr Selvapandyan who practised at Indo-American hospital, Vaikom. I slowly started admiring him and took him as my role-model. I was barely 10 when I decided to become a doctor,” recalls the boy.
But, Marady government VHSS did not have the required science stream. In 2015, Albin moved the state education department seeking upgradation of his school to higher secondary. “Our school had two divisions of vocational higher secondary programme. Considering my physical condition, the local MLA convinced the authorities concerned that I cannot attend classes in far-off schools. Thus, Marady government VHSS got a division for biology (science) stream,” says Albin.
Albin cleared the SSLC examination with full A+ score. When he applied for class XI (biology) in the same school the hurdles started pouring in. Soon, he realized that physically-challenged candidates should appear before a medical examination committee and get a certificate saying they are fit to pursue higher secondary education in science stream.
The committee ascertained that Albin has 60 per cent disability which will remain permanent through rest of his life. The committee marked Albin eligible to pursue higher secondary education in science stream with a condition that no assistance will be provided during laboratory sessions and practical tests. Delighted, Albin accepted this.
In May 2019, Albin cleared class XII examination with 85 per cent marks. By the time Albin's results came, there were barely 50 days left for the National Entrance cum Eligibility Test (NEET). He enrolled for a NEET crash course at Thumboli, Alappuzha. “Owner and head instructor of the coaching centre Ousepachan offered free coaching to needy aspirants. I stayed at their institute for one-and-a-half months with my mother. I have secured 1294th rank in NEET in the physically handicapped quota," says Albin.
The real test began after the NEET results were out. Albin appeared before a special medical examination board to prove his physical eligibility to study medicine. The board, comprising an ophthalmologist, neurologist, psychiatrist, ENT specialist, orthopaedist, general physician and a physical medicine and rehabilitation expert, made Albin perform some fixed set of activities.
The board's decision came as a shock for the boy as it fixed his disability at 85 per cent. Candidates up to 80 per cent disability can only join medical course as per the norms set by the MCI. Dissatisfied, Albin challenged the board's decision in Kerala High Court.
Advocate Mathew Kuzhalnadan, who is also the Professionals Congress Kerala President, came to know about Albin's plight through friends and social media. After assessing the legal aspects, he took up Albin's case free of cost.
“There are two things which attracted me to this case. One is obviously Albin's undying passion for MBBS. The spirit in his words astonished me. Golden opportunities are there for unique talents like him. Second one is the legal aspect. Our judiciary has always maintained a compassionate and inclusive attitude towards physically challenged citizens," Mathew explained.
According to Mathew, the range of disability quotient that determines a person's eligibility to appear for professional courses was 40-60 per cent in the beginning. Later, it was modified as 40-70 per cent considering technological advancements. The latest amendment to Medical Council of India (MCI) norms made in May 2019 extends it as 40-80 per cent with some additional clauses.
One of such clauses says: "Persons with more than 80 per cent disability may also be allowed on case-to-case basis and their functional competency will be determined with the aid of assistive devices, if it is being used, to see if it is brought below 80 per cent and whether they possess sufficient motor ability as required to pursue and complete the course satisfactorily."
In Albin's case, he qualifies the motor ability criterion. His mobility issues could also be brought down by technological assistance like a wheelchair.
“This is a case in which the medical certification authority lacked a holistic approach. I am sure Albin will win this case," says Mathew.
Considering the plea, the High Court ordered on June 23 that a re-examination committee be formed to test Albin's physical abilities and decide whether he is fit to pursue medical education. The court also ordered that a medical seat be kept vacant till Albin's physical re-test results come.
Albin wishes to join Kottayam Medical College for MBBS. He cites the example of Stephen Hawking to convince people about a paraplegic's possibilities of becoming a doctor. “Leave it to me. I can perform any task other students do by sitting on my wheelchair. You can't limit someone from becoming a doctor just because one can't stand," he says.
When asked whether he would specialize in neurology like his role model Dr Selvapandyan, he said, “let the final MBBS scores decide it”.