Sherry Tejas lay stretched out on an operating table in Reykjavik, holding still as a medical laser created three incisions near his heart. As serum "from a pregnant wolf" was injected through the incisions, he began to sweat profusely, despite the room’s subzero temperature. The serum burned inside him. “I tried hard to suppress my screams, but after a few minutes, I was shouting at the top of my voice,” Tejas recalled when I met him at a cafe in Delhi’s Mayur Vihar. “It was pain beyond measure. My eyes were teary and I fell unconscious.”
The experimental treatment was an attempt to cure Tejas’ hemothorax: a leakage of blood between the lungs and the chest cavity. When the 25-year-old climatologist regained consciousness six hours later, his chest was lanced with a different kind of pain. Tejas saw a friend standing next to him. “He told me that my pulse rate was getting high and I was having an heart attack.”
The serum being synthesised. Video: Sherry Tejas.
When he woke again the next day, the medical researcher* (according to Tejas, herpetologist and expedition doctor) who had administered the treatment congratulated him for surviving. After three days of observation, Tejas was discharged, with a warning to stick to colder temperatures and food for some time.
Tejas, an IIT-Delhi graduate from Chandigarh recounted his tale to me over several interviews. Though he told me he was a climatologist who had interned with the National Geographic Society and was currently pursuing a Masters in rock engineering from Radboud University, he is also a gifted storyteller. The 'wolf serum', for example, was serum from a Siberian husky, which I discovered while perusing his Instagram profile, where Tejas has documented travelling to 78 countries so far.
It was during a trip to Austria that Tejas developed hemothorax after an accident. On January 22, Tejas and three colleagues were heading back to Vienna from a nearby weather studies assignment for the Austrian Central Institute for Meteorology and Geodynamics.
“We were descending the cliff when a truck carrying wooden logs hit us,” Tejas recounted. “It was snowing, our car skid, and we fell into a glacier.” He tried to dig himself out of the ice, but lost consciousness. The driver was jammed behind the steering wheel, and his colleagues behind the stuck windows.
When he regained consciousness in Vienna’s Privatklinik Confraternität hospital, Tejas learned that doctors had to warm up his body to neutralize hypothermia and get his pulse going. He was cleared to leave after three days, and flew back to Delhi.
When he landed at Indira Gandhi International Airport, he started sweating profusely. He couldn’t walk and pain lanced his chest. “Right outside the IGI airport, I fell unconscious,” he said.
Waking up in a hospital room for the second time in a week, he found himself at the AIIMS Trauma Centre, where a pulmonary specialist* told him he had a tiny hole in a vein leading to his heart. “Out of the 11 patients he had treated for hemothorax in the last five years, only one is still alive,” Tejas said. “The rest died due to brain haemorrhage or multiple organ failure.” At that time, all he could think about was not being able to fulfil his dream of travelling to Antarctica.
According to thoracic surgeon Dr. Narendra Agarwal, the hemothorax patient typically has two options, both with a risk of mortality: “video-assisted thoracoscopic surgery or thoracotomy—an open chest surgery—based on the reasons behind the bleeding.”
Tejas’ doctors recommended thoracotomy, but he didn’t want to take the risk of cutting other veins in the vicinity. He kept his diagnosis from his parents, though he was rapidly losing weight. He said his legs would go numb and his jaw lock up while he tried to chew. With his sister’s help he began sending his medical reports to friends, doctors and scientists across the globe for advice.
Two weeks later, he got an email from a Danish medical researcher, who he’d met during a trip to South Africa. The researcher allegedly suggested the experimental treatment in Iceland. It sounded like something out of a superhero’s backstory.
The researcher wanted to use the serum generated by a pregnant wolf to attempt an embolization to seal the pores in his vein. According to Dr. Agarwal, “different embolizing agents [can be] used to cure a ruptured vein. Using animal parts or ingredients as an agent depends on the permission from the government.”
The researcher told Tejas to travel to Iceland, one of the few countries which he said had no strict laws against human and animal trials. Tejas also said he signed a waiver absolving the researcher of any liability. He was warned that the experiment may involve inducing a heart attack. When he landed in Reykjavik on March 14, he signed an agreement that said his family would receive a compensation in case of his death. Moreover, his case could be used in research papers on hemothorax for contribution to medical science.
Because his body needed to adjust to the colder temperature required for the experiment, Tejas said he wore only underwear in a -5 degree Celsuis room and only ate ice cream for three days. “On the second day, I couldn’t blink my eyes or open my mouth to speak, my throat was aching, heartbeat had slowed down and the pulse was weak,” he said.
Back in India after the experimental treatment, Tejas says he no longer has hemothorax and his condition has improved. Though he no longer feels chest pains, he told me his stamina was affected and his body more prone to sickness. During one interview, he told me one of his legs had suddenly become numb. “It happens sometime. But I feel stronger and feel better than before.”
* All accounts are from Tejas; the researcher didn’t reply to multiple requests for an interview, and we were not able to reach the AIIMS doctor.
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