Health & Fitness

He watches people battling for their life every day, so he didn’t want to wait to help

Dr. Binay Shah works in his Bellingham office in February.
Dr. Binay Shah works in his Bellingham office in February. For The Bellingham Herald

Nepal has a population of nearly 30 million people. Until last summer, however, the central Asian country had zero places to receive a bone marrow transplant.

But all that changed thanks to Dr. Binay Shah, a local oncologist.

Shah grew up in Nepal and co-founded the Binaytara Foundation, a non-profit promoting health and education in under-privileged areas, with his wife in 2007.

In August, the foundation opened Nepal’s first bone marrow transplant center at Civil Service Hospital, a government facility in Kathmandu.

It’s all about touching live, and every single collaboration, every single partnership, helps us reach more people.

Dr. Binay Shah

An 18-year-old man with aggressive B-Cell Lymphoma received the first transplant, and since then, five more have been successfully conducted.

“It’s beautiful to see the lives being touched,” says Shah, 41, who practices oncology at North Puget Cancer Center in Sedro-Woolley and occasionally at the Bellingham Cancer Center. “Those patients who get transplants right now – they would die otherwise. They would have absolutely no (other) option.”

Dr. Bishesh Poudyal, left, and his patient following the first successful bone .
Dr. Bishesh Poudyal, left and his patient smile following the first successful bone marrow transplant at at Nepal’s new transplant center at Civil Service Hospital. Dr. Binay Shah Courtesy to The Bellingham Herald

Always wanting to help

Since he was a child, Shah said he has always wanted to help people less fortunate than himself. His longtime hero is Mother Teresa.

Shah completed medical school in Nepal before moving to the U.S. for a New York City medical residency in 2004. He completed a fellowship in Chicago before moving to Washington 10 years ago, and has practiced medicine on both sides of the state.

The transplant center – a collaboration between Shah’s foundation, Nepal’s government and the University of Illinois’ College of Medicine – resulted in Shah winning the university’s Sweeny Spirit of Medicine Award last year. The award honors an individual or group who has improved the medical health or education of their communities.

It’s beautiful to see the lives being touched. Those patients who get transplants right now – they would die otherwise.

Dr. Binay Shah

Shah was humbled and honored to receive it, he says. But he doesn’t do foundation work for pride or ego. He does it because he feels he must.

“Life is very short,” he says,” and as a cancer doctor, I perceive that every single day. Because every single day I see patients, fighting (between) life and death.”

Witnessing those struggles, he says, keeps him grounded and fills him with a sense of urgency toward helping others.

“I don’t have time,” he says. “I can’t wait another day to do something like this.”

Expanding programs

In addition to developing Nepal’s first bone marrow transplant center, Shah’s foundation provided relief supplies and helped build more than 50 temporary family shelters following the massive April 2015 earthquake there that killed nearly 9,000 people.

Binaytara also provides in-home hospice care in the Kathmandu Valley with help from another non-profit, Cancer Care Nepal.

Looking ahead, the Binaytara Foundation is also working to establish 51 in-home hospice care programs in India’s Madhya Pradesh state. Shah says the program is set to begin in May.

In both hospice care situations, Shah’s foundation supports the training of doctors and nurses for the programs, as well as their salaries and other transportation and medical needs, allowing care to be provided free of cost to patients.

The affordability of providing medical care in countries like Nepal and India is significant, Shah says. A bone marrow transplant in Nepal costs $5,000, compared to roughly $100,000 in the U.S. Much lower income levels, he says, results in health care providers, equipment and medication being much cheaper.

I don’t have time. I can’t wait another day to do something like this.

Dr. Binay Shah

The foundation is looking to expand hospice care to more countries, including Cuba and the Ukraine.

Locally, Shah’s foundation organizes one of the largest annual cancer conferences in the Pacific Northwest, and holds cancer summits providing people with additional information for dealing with cancer.

Shah says his foundation also is working towards an April start for a state-wide childcare program, providing cancer patients with free services while they receive cancer treatment.

The foundation has partnered with numerous hospitals, universities and institutions, including Seattle Cancer Care Alliance, to reach its goals and continue assisting those with cancer.

“It’s all about touching lives,” Shah says,” and every single collaboration, every single partnership, helps us reach more people.”

More information

Those wishing to find out more or donate to the Binaytara Foundation can visit the foundation’s website at binayfoundation.org.

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