“I have had this desire my whole life to prove people wrong, to show them I could do things they didn’t think I could do.” David A. Paterson

At 13, a freak accident caused her to lose both her hands and severely damaged her legs, raising serious doubts about whether she would ever walk again. But this young girl braved all odds and emerged victorious. Today, she is a dedicated social worker, a motivational speaker and model for accessible clothing in India. She is also a Global Shaper from the Chennai Hub, which is a part of the Global Shapers Community, an initiative of the World Economic Forum.

It is my privilege to present Malvika Iyer’s amazing story of grit! She was born in Kumbakonam. Her father was transferred to Rajasthan when she was still very young. She spent nearly 13 years of her early life in Bikaner, Rajasthan. She had a very healthy and a happy childhood. She was a tomboy; she enjoyed outdoor sports and learnt swimming and skating. She also learnt Kathak for about seven years. It was a fun-filled life, till the fateful day of May 26, 2002 when she met with an accident. Some months before the accident, an ammunition depot had caught fire in the city and hand shells, grenades and other bits and pieces were scattered all over the city. One such piece landed in her neighbourhood.They were told, that it was a defused shell. She was trying to stick something on her jeans pocket, and she wanted something heavy to hammer it with. She just took this shell and hit it.With the first hit, the shell exploded in her hand. There was almost nothing left of her hands. Both her legs had severe injuries, nerve damage and multiple fractures. It took nearly two years and several surgeries for her to walk again. For the first three days after the explosion, she was totally conscious, aware of each and every thing happening around her, but her body was numb. Within moments of the explosion,she heard her mom screaming, “Meri bachhi ke haath chale gaye!” she was taken to the hospital immediately. There was so much damage to her limbs that her body went into a state of shock. She could not feel anything as the four main nerves were instantly cut. There was 80 per cent blood loss. When she reached the hospital her BP was zero, the doctors were not sure whether she would even survive.

Malvika Iyer

The doctors were not sure whether they would be able to save her leg, especially the left one. It was dangling, just hanging from a small bit of skin. They wanted to amputate it, but her parents did not want to risk any more damage. They took her in an ambulance to Jaipur. The splinters were stuck all over her legs and had penetrated deep within. She remembers those days and nights filled with pain. But the doctors were good and managed to save her leg. Though completely disfigured, with no sensation in her left leg and a foot drop (difficulty in lifting the front part of the foot) in the right, she felt lucky that she still had them. Her hands were completely cut off. Later a skin grafting operation was done and with that she was left with just two stumps.

She was treated at a Bone and Joint clinic in Anna Nagar in Chennai. After months of intense  therapy, she was finally able to walk. She took her first few painful steps in November 2003, one and a half years after the accident. They started enquiring about artificial hands. She found a German prosthetics company called Ottobock that had a branch in Chennai. That is how she got a pair of bio-electric hands. She started practicing to write; initially her handwriting was very big, and then slowly, with practice, she improved. This was in December 2003. In four months her friends would be appearing for their 10th board exams. She was in touch with a very close friend in Bikaner. She used to tell her how they were preparing. Her mom found this coaching centre right behind their street.

She had just three months to prepare. She put in her best and got a State rank among the private candidates, she scored centum in both Math and Science and 97 in Hindi, also a State first. She felt like a celebrity. The next day, all the leading newspapers covered her. They wrote about how she overcame her disability to achieve this distinction. It was all very encouraging. She was invited to Rashtrapati Bhavan to meet Dr APJ Abdul Kalam (then President of India). She was given an award for outstanding model student by Wisdom magazine.

After 12th, she joined St Stephen’s College, Delhi, where she graduated in Economics (Honours). She then did her Master’s in Social Work from the Delhi School of Social Work. During her field training, she had the opportunity to work with differently-abled children. She could empathize with them and understand them better. In 2014, she was invited for a TED Talk and that talk completely changed the course of her life. When she started talking about herself, she realised that she was actually much better off than a lot of people, who would complain, even without any problem in their life. She was seen as a motivational speaker. Now she gets invited to talk at colleges and schools or to corporates in Chennai and other cities. Last year, she was invited to host the India Inclusion Summit in Bangalore. She was the emcee and had the opportunity to meet a lot of differently-abled people. She It was a great honour to be able to host such a programme.

Presently, she is a Junior Research Fellow doing Ph.D. in Social Work at the Madras School of Social Work. Recently she did a ramp walk at NIFT (National Institute of Fashion Technology), Chennai. She is a model for accessible clothing, which is an initiative of Ability Foundation and NIFT.The students designed two gowns for her, taking into considering her prosthetic hand. She was the showstopper for that evening and it was an amazing experience. Ever since then she has been writing about accessible clothing.

She was invited to host a Run in Bangalore recently she went all by herself. She handled everything, from the airport, all the travelling, the stay in the hotel, etc. Today she can do ninety per cent of her work on her own. However her legs still hurt when she walks. Even then, she doesn’t have any regrets. Dancing was her first love. She used to be sad that she could not dance like before. But now she has started dancing again. She cannot dance as gracefully as before, but she still dances. At the Bangalore Run, she danced on the stage. She thinks life is all about making the best with what you have. In February, 2015 she got engaged to a wonderful man, a design engineer, and there is a lot to look forward to in life rather than just sitting around thinking of what could have been. Having read this I strongly recommend you to see Malvika Iyer standing tall and sharing the experiences of her life, by using the link below.