Like many other 15-year olds, Anushka Panda likes to sing, watch animated movies, fashion and eating out but what sets her apart is a rare neuromuscular disorder known as Spinal Muscular Atrophy or SMA she was born with. The genetic disease which affects a person’s motor nerve cells in the spinal cord, practically tied Anushka to a wheelchair all her life. Not only that but the disease restricts her from performing some of the most basic activities like breathing, sitting for long hours and even writing. Hence for her, studying for and writing board exams was a bigger challenge, which she has now, successfully overcome, all thanks to her iron-strong determination.
Anushka, a student of Suncity School, Gurgaon, scored 97.8% marks in this year’s CBSE Class X, the highest among the differently-abled category. What makes this remarkable feat even more special is the fact that Anushka bagged the score without even utilising the extra half hour time which she is legally entitled to. She has scored 95 in English, 99 in History, 99 in Mathematics, 98 in Science and another 99 in Social Sciences, respectively. Anushka incidentally happens to share the top rank with another student, Sanya Gandhi who is visually challenged, from Uttam School, Ghaziabad. Moreover, the Prime Minister on Sunday, July 29 on his show, “Mann Ki Baat” praised Anushka for her exemplary performance in the board exams and called her an “inspiration”.
Anushka Panda did not let her disability define her
Speaking to The Logical Indian over a phone call, Anushka Panda spoke about her seemingly insurmountable struggle of being a teenager with SMA, topping the boards and being praised by the Prime Minister on “Mann Ki Baat”. With impeccable articulation, Anushka classified her problems into three categories. She said, “There are three problems I face, ergonomic, health and social stereotype.” The condition requires Anushka to write on a table that has been specially designed for her. The examination centre did not have the table that she needed and hence, had to be transported all the way from Suncity School, she said.
Not only that, but Anushka said that lack of usable ramps at most public places including railway stations had restricted her travelling to malls and the airport. Being born with SMA has its own set of challenges apart from immobility, as Anushka said that she only has 27% lung function as compared to others. “I have to be very careful of catching a cold as it always turns into pneumonia for me,” said Anushka. In addition to this, she also has to undergo physiotherapy on a regular basis, which did not stop even during the examination days.
Moreover, to keep her spine straight, Anushka has to wear a spinal brace at all times, which leads to rashes and bruises. To add to her woes, taking breaks after an hour or two of sitting has become a must for her. She said, “I know I can’t sit and study for long and hence, I try and concentrate as much as I can while I am studying.” What Anushka dislikes the most is the societal stereotype that came as a result of her condition. “People see that I am different than them and then I get cornered by them, it isn’t bullying, but I am treated differently,” she added.
Anushka is multi-talented
However, Anushka isn’t only a good student. She is a trained classical singer who is now teaching herself western music too. Her mother, Archana Panda, while talking to The Logical Indian said that Anushka has been learning music since she was only four years old. Moreover, she writes lyrics and composes music too.
Archana, speaking about her daughter’s achievements said, “My daughter has consistently topped in annual exams right from her childhood, and we knew that she would perform well in the boards as well. However, we didn’t expect that she would end up topping the boards.” Anushka is the only daughter of Anup Kumar Panda, Vice-President at a German MNC while her mother, Archana Panda is a Lead Auditor for Social Accountability Accreditation Services, a US-based accreditation company. Both parents have been instrumental in providing the much-needed support to their daughter.
Awareness of Spinal Muscular Atrophy
She is presently studying in class XI in the same school where she has taken up Science. Anushka is also busy preparing for JEE (Advanced) as she aspires to become a software engineer. However, little did she know that her exemplary performance is going to catch the attention of PM Modi. On July 29, in the 46th episode of his monthly radio programme Mann Ki Baat, PM Modi said Gurugram student Anushka Panda is an inspiration. He not only talked about her medical condition but also said,“Anushka did not let her disability deter her from becoming an all-India topper.”
This not only solidified Anushka’s determination even further but she hopes that after this, it might be easier for her to receive the medicine for SMA which is only available in the USA at the moment. Archana said, “We were delighted to know that PM Modi has talked about our child and her condition on such a big platform,” and added, “It’s because of him that more people today know about SMA.”
For the treatment which costs Rs 5 crore per patient per annum, Archana had previously made attempts to contact the Prime Minister. She had even written to the Prime Minister’s Office. She said, “This was a huge boost for us, and I will keep making efforts to talk to the Prime Minister.”
The Logical Indian Take
It is because of hard work and determination that Anushka has been able to attain such great heights of success, irrespective of her condition. She has set an example for all of us, and The Logical Indian applauds her for achievements.