She is a true testament of surviving through the darkest situations and bouncing back to life with fervour, but to help society. Dr. Harriet Rebello channels her strength from the divine and owes her accomplishments to her spiritual upbringing. This is her story…
Dr. Harriet was born in Bamanwada near Sahar Airport (and still considers that area an intrinsic part of herself). She schooled at St. Joseph’s Convent, Bandra, until the fourth standard after which she studied as a boarder at St. Joseph’s Convent, Panchgani. She completed her senior Cambridge from the convent, even winning the Bombay Presidency scholarship in English language and literacy.
Though she would have rather studied English Literature, her father forced her to study science, which she did at Sophia College. She continued her medical studies at Topiwala National Medical College and registered with the pediatrics department at Wadia hospital. She continued to work there doing her training through the various departments. In 1966, she married Dr. Michael Rebello and a year later they welcomed their daughter Michelle.
However, her happiness was short-lived, when in 1973 her husband passed away. Widowed with a young child, she went on to do administrative work at Sion Hospital. She then rose through the ranks to the position of assistant Dean at Sion Hospital.
It was at Sion hospital where she learnt lessons that would hold her in good stead through her life; this stint made her humane and care for the poor.
Small Changes That Made Big Differences
During the 1993 riots, she relentlessly administered medical help to victims mainly from Dharavi, who filled the hospital. This goodwill was reciprocated during the floods. The same patients gave her a ride on a garbage van, so that she could pick up her daughter.
One day, she was late for a meeting with the then Municipal Commissioner because she was attending a course on hospital administration. When the commissioner found out the reason, he sponsored her studies. In order to pay forward the kindness that was shown to her, she encouraged her staff to better themselves. She started a scheme in the hospital to give the staff cut vegetables, so that they would get more time for themselves and their families.
The commissioner had such immense faith in Dr. Harriet that he had her carry out a recruitment drive for labour staff. In order that there might not be any favouritism, she changed the manner in which the interview would take place. This caused several issues including her receiving threats from political parties. However, the campaign was a success.
She then worked at Wadia hospital before coming to Holy Family Hospital, her wish to work in a Christian institute.
Living By Catholic Values At The Workplace
Dr. Harriet credits Mother Mary for teaching her to have a personal relationship with her patients and staff. She states, “Like Mary said yes to Elizabeth, I too want to give a willing yes, no matter the situation.” She also learnt from Mary to talk to her patients to find out what the root of the problem really was rather than glossing over their stories.
Her inspiration and strength comes from God and St. Andrew. To put her religion into practice, at Sion hospital she arranged for a mural with the symbols of each religion with a special position for the cross. She even had a priest to come to visit the Catholic patients at the hospital.
When asked from where she gets her indomitable spirit, she says, the Jesuits taught her catechism and she could not think of doing anything wrong. They ingrained moral and ethical values in her and made her realise that money is not everything, but helping people is. Her belief in God, Jesus, Mary, St. Jude and her guardian angels are what pull her through difficult times.
One of course being the much publicised accident that she had when her tire burst on her way to church. The accident rendered her unconscious and she had no recollection of what happened. She was told what occurred only when she gained her strength. She was upset with God, but thought that God must have let her live for a reason. This made her determined to get well and she prayed to God to show her what it was that she must do.
As part of doing what her religion teaches, she started a school for hearing-impaired children, which is still running. Helping people and truly considering them are values that she has put into practice on a daily basis during her tenure as a doctor.
By Wynrica Rodrigues-Gonsalves