Triumph over tragedy: The inspiring life journey of Dr Lenny

The life story of Lenny, a gynaecologist, serves as a source of inspiration for those who feel defeated in their lives. Photo: Special arrangement

 “My life was full of tragedies, causing me to stumble along the way. Just when I thought of getting back on my feet somehow, another tragedy would strike. I felt like my life was knitted with fragile paddy straws," Lenny Markose (82), a gynaecologist at Paret Mar Ivanios Hospital, Puthuppally, Kottayam, choked as she became emotional.

Her life has been eventful. Lenny had to marry just as her dream of becoming a doctor sprouted in her mind while studying in the 11th standard. She lost her husband and a daughter at the age of 25.
The life story of Lenny, a gynaecologist, serves as a source of inspiration for those who feel defeated in their lives.

Happy childhood and the crossroads
Lenny was born to Captain M M Ninan, an officer in the British Indian Army, and Mary, as the youngest of their nine children, in 1941. She had a dream-like life until the 10th standard. She used to write her name as Dr Lenny on the pages of her books even when she was studying in the eighth standard. Meanwhile, Captain Ninan, who fought for Britain in World War I and World War II, retired from the army and settled in Malaysia. Lenny was studying in the 10th standard at the time.

After Ninan's health deteriorated, Mary had to go to Malaysia to take care of her husband. Although the boys were sent to a hostel, the parents did not want to send Lenny to a boarding school. Although Lenny strongly pleaded to continue her studies, halfway through her 10th grade, her ambition to become a doctor suffered its first setback. Lenny, exhausted from crying, clung to her mother's hands as they set sail to Malaysia, not knowing that this was the beginning of the tragedies to come in her life.

Life in Malaysia and return
Upon reaching there, the school authorities refused to give admission to the foreign student who had studied in the Malayalam medium. But after constant efforts, she was allowed to write the entrance exam. Lenny, who passed the test, studied until higher secondary there. But before the first-year exams, another tragedy awaited her. Her father’s illness had worsened, and the family had to return to India. But, this time, Lenny insisted that she should finish her studies.

Ninan and Mary returned home, leaving Lenny with his sister. Despite the pain of separation from her parents, she rejoiced at the prospect of completing her studies. But that happiness did not last long. Ninan died soon after reaching home. Mary, depressed by the death of her husband, brought Lenny home. Another crossroad awaited Lenny, who had to leave without being able to complete her studies.

Down the aisle
Back home, Mary had found a groom for the 18-year-old Lenny. He was Mathew John (Thankachan), the younger brother of Lenny’s elder sister Maggie’s husband. Mathew worked as a surveyor in Tanzania. Mary gave her word for the marriage, assuming that a relationship from a known family would be safe for her daughter. Lenny cried all she could, demanding that she wanted to complete the 12th standard. But no one paid attention to her entreaties. Lenny married Mathew in 1961 and soon after marriage, went to Tanzania with her husband. A happy married life awaited her there.

A happy life cut short
Their second daughter, Meritta, was born when the eldest daughter, Gretta, was one and a half years old. Life went on happily in Tanzania with her children and husband. But that happiness was short-lived. Meritta, who contracted cerebral malaria, left this world on her first birthday. Although over the months her life with Gretta and Mathew returned to normal, Lenny was still grieving the loss of her daughter. Hardly two years later, another tragedy struck her like a bolt from the blue. Mathew died in a car accident while going to work.

Days of ridicule and survival
Lenny narrates how she survived the rest of her life:
“I became a widow at the age of 25 and returned home with my four-and-a-half-year-old daughter. The deaths of my daughter and husband left me very depressed. I had with me only a small amount of financial aid given by the government of Tanzania after my husband’s death. At the time, I also faced the disdain of being a widow. Everyone kept me away during auspicious events and special occasions. I had no place even in the family photos. There was pressure to remarry, but I resisted it as I wanted to raise my only daughter Gretta well. I needed a job to stand on my own feet. With that, the desire to study was reignited. Against the wishes of my relatives and siblings, I joined Marthoma College, Thiruvalla, for the pre-degree course in 1970 at the age of 28. I joined the college there because I could stay and study with my mother. Mother's death during exams.

“My pre-degree period was not easy for me. Returning after being away from the world of books for 10 years made learning difficult. I also had the responsibility to take care of my mother. Owing to this, Gretta was moved to a boarding school along with my sister's children. I had to get up early in the morning, take care of my mother, and go to school. As a result, my school attendance decreased. But when the authorities were informed of the situation, I received special permission to write the examination. But tragedy struck again with my mother dying three weeks before the exam. I became more anguished. Still, I was not ready to give up. My uncle came forward to look after us. I stayed at my uncle's house and wrote the exam in the midst of difficulties. I won the college's proficiency prize for the best student of the year.”

Poetic justice reserved by time
I held on to my dream of becoming a doctor and studied even without sleep. At the end of my efforts night and day, I got admission to the MBBS course at CMC Medical College, Vellore, in 1972, at the age of 30. I had no place to accommodate Gretta. The hospital authorities who came to know this, allowed me to take a house on rent outside the campus and attend the classes. So, off I went to Vellore with my teenage daughter. There was a severe financial burden. I studied by buying the old books of my senior students. Gretta's and my studies went on well. But in the meantime, I realised a lump was growing in my breast. Unless it was removed as soon as possible, it could turn cancerous. It was Gretta who signed the consent form for the surgery and took care of me. At every stage, we only had each other for support. We studied together and grew up together. In 1978, when I graduated from Vellore CMC after completing MBBS and house surgery, Gretta too got admission to the same college for the MBBS course the same year.

Life sees better days
“I got posted as a doctor at the CSI Hospital, Kodukulanji, Chengannur. There, I became acquainted with Dr. M.M. Markose (Sunny), who was the medical superintendent of the hospital. He had lost his wife in a car accident and was living with his three young sons. The children's names were Rajeev, Abu, and Aku. I often thought that those children really needed a mother. Loneliness has the same effect everywhere. Therefore, in 1980, at the age of 39, I got married once again. I agreed to the marriage only after informing Sunny of my desire to pursue my MD course. I had to listen to insulting remarks such as “the mother gets married at a time when her daughter is of marriageable age”.

 A never-ending struggle
Lenny did her DGO and MD courses from CMC Medical College, Vellore, in gynaecology. Meanwhile, she also took care of the family by looking after her husband and the four children, including Gretta. When the mother of Sunny's first wife became ill, it was Lenny who brought her home and took care of her. After her studies, Lenny worked in various hospitals. Her life went on happily with her husband and children.
Gretta married John, who had studied with her at Vellore Medical College. Gretta, who is a gynaecologist, and John, a paediatrician, started a hospital in Nagapattinam. Gretta gave birth to two sons.
Meanwhile, another sad news reached the family. Initially, a change in Gretta's voice went unnoticed by many. However, upon closer examination, it became painfully evident that a tumour had formed on her vocal cord, and subsequent biopsy results confirmed it to be cancerous. Gretta's youngest son was just 10 months old at that time. Lenny stopped working at the Kottayam SH Medical Centre in order to be with her daughter while she underwent treatment at the hospital in Vellore. The power of the travails they underwent gave strength to the mother and daughter.

Gretta lost her ability to speak completely after two months of radiation therapy. Lenny, who did not get discouraged, took care of her daughter at home. After a long effort, her voice returned to some extent. Lenny refused to let cancer claim her daughter, who had been her pillar of support throughout her life, and she fought to bring Gretta back from the brink of death. Gretta now speaks fluently, albeit with a stutter. Gretta's two sons are doctors.

When Fears Are Grounded, Dreams Take Wings’
Dr. Lenny is working in the gynaecology department of the Paret Mar Ivanios Hospital, Puthuppally. She lives with her husband at Pakkil, Kottayam. Rajeev has completed an MBBS and MS in Orthopedics from Vellore CMC. After doing his B.Tech from IIT Madras and MBA from the US, Abu is working with Amazon. Aku is a head and neck oncology consultant in the United Kingdom. Lenny has published an autobiography titled, “When Fears Are Grounded, Dreams Take Wings”, recounting her experiences and how she rose up whenever she stumbled in life.

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