Deepa Muthiyan, the founder of Dean Foundation was born in Renigunta, Andhra Pradesh and grew up in the Nilgiris. It has been said that very strong bonds are formed between grandmothers and granddaughters, both powerful and meaningful. Such was the relationship between Deepa and her grandmother. Her grandmother was a doctor herself who lived and practiced in Tirupati. Deepa reminisces about how she used to look forward to seeing her grandmother over the holidays with excitement every year. She recalls frantic knocks in the dead of the night, summoning her grandmother to attend to a medical emergency. She spent her holidays watching her grandma practice and help people in need at any hour. “I used to wonder if all doctors were like her – reaching out to poor people when they were ill, treating them no matter day or night.”
The rest of her holiday time was spent reading. Deepa was a voracious reader and devoured books so fast that friends and family had a tough time keeping up with the supply! She developed her reading from her father. “My father always encouraged me to be independent and versatile and my mother was a disciplinarian. Both stressed the importance of education,” adds Deepa. She moved with her parents to Chennai and completed her graduation from Ethiraj College for Women.
At the end of the first year of college, she got married and soon after became a mother of two sons. After the birth of her second son, she continued her education and completed her Masters in English Literature. She then went on to doing a course in Journalism and Communication. “Every day, I cooked for the family, dropped my kids to school, went to college, picked them up, and cooked again!” Life was tough, but she persisted against all odds to complete her Masters in Philosophy too. Her skill in multitasking helped her juggle her roles as a mother, wife, and student. She also worked as a professor teaching Journalism in the later years. Irrespective of all this, she made time to reach out to people, visiting friends in hospital, bringing them food; listening to people’s woes and help them network with those who could help.
While nursing a relative in hospital, she came across a book called the “Tibetan Book of the Living and Dying,” by Sogyal Rinpoche. “This book introduced me to the new medical specialty called Palliative Medicine. It changed my destiny.” Palliative Medicine is promoted by the World Health Organization (WHO) as a comprehensive and multidisciplinary manner of care offered by a team of doctors, nurses, social workers, volunteers, and members of religious orders. The accent is on total control of pain and alleviation of social and psychological problems.
Deeply moved and touched by the book, she wanted to care for the dying and did not know where to begin. Deepa shared her wish with two friends of the family, Past District Governor, Mr. K.V. Srinivasan and Mr. Aravindan. Both felt that they too wanted to do something in caring for those with life threatening illness and dying. They came together to register a Trust, Dean Foundation on March 1998. Dean is an acronym for “To Dignify and Empower the Ailing and the Needy”. Raising funds for the Trust was tough. Deepa quit her job as a professor and started to focus on building the Trust. After the initial funds were exhausted, her friends and husband pitched in with money to help. “Donors felt that donating to a cause like a Hospice was a waste.” Finding a place was difficult. House owners were apprehensive about patients dying on their premises. Neighbours objected. All the advertisements put for medical staff brought no doctors or nurses. Three of four doctors who joined, left in quick succession. Work began in a two-room space in Kilpauk, with no furniture. Since DEAN was a standalone NGO, not attached to any hospital, Deepa had to personally meet doctors to convince them to refer patients.
Her early life revealed her grit and determination to complete any task she undertook successfully. Today, patients bring in more patients!
Deepa has been serving society in a niche area of healthcare where others fear to venture! With an increase in progressively ill patients with the increase in population, the world needs more people like Deepa.