I would like to nominate my hero Mohammad Shams Aalam Shaikh, nicknamed “Shams”, as one of the 2019 CNN Heroes. I base this nomination on my personal enlightenment with Shams story of courage and successfully transmitting his contagious courage to others who lost their mobility – an indispensable element for a joyful life. In 2010, Shams – an engineering graduate – was diagnosed with a benign spine tumor. He was operated to remove the tumor but had to undergo a second operation to fix an error (spinal tumor not removed completely) introduced in the first operation. Sadly, this time, Shams to find himself paraplegic from the chest down for rest of his life at the age of 24 because of a medical negligence. Shams is a very special human being as his paraplegic condition gave him a purpose to uplift others with physical disability. And soon, a new Shams was born, fuelled by his love for competitiveness in swimming since his childhood and realization that his ability to swim generally remains the same (and not impaired by paraplegic condition) and could be used for a larger good to help others like him to live their dreams with passions and catalyse their integration back into society with pride. Over the last 8 years, Shams has become a ‘Change Maker and Disability Right Activists’ to bring equal opportunities for persons with disabilities into all walks of life; start a ‘Para Sports Association -Mumbai’ and create champions; represent India in CAN AM PARA Swimming 2016 and stood 3rd place in ‘Asian Para Games 2018, World series Berlin 2017 & Sheffield 2018’; a Global Ambassador for ‘ Sport Diplomacy’ alumnus U.S. Department of State Global Sports mentoring Program 2018; an ambassador for the Election Commission of India for motivating persons with disabilities to come out to exercise their fundamental right to vote; and be a natural Motivator to persons with disabilities to take control of their lives and live with dignity (see supporting material below). I believe that Shams is a living symbol of courage, hope, building self-esteem with persistence, and equal rights for persons with disabilities- he has already inspired hundreds and thousands like him to fully integrate back and contribute to our society. For these reasons and these traits are trans-Continental, I believe that Shams represents will be an ideal candidate to be recognized as one of the 2019 CNN Heroes.

*Accomplishments and Impact: How is his/her work making a difference?

In 2015, Shams bring the issues of inaccessibility in the mind of management of Sathyabama University, now Sathyabama University, is accessible for people with disabilities & around 30+ students benefiting; he accesses audit for various university for persons with disabilities, making public transports accessible for all, public toilets accessible for persons with disabilities. In 2017, Beachfest Goa made longest open sea swimming to raise awareness on disability and now Candolim beach Goa is accessible for all. As a para athlete and trainer, Shams founded Para Sports Association – Mumbai and conducted various training camps and already produced 10 national Para Swimmer and 15 State Athletes.

An example of Shams distinctiveness: During the period of 2011- 2019, 40 people with spinal cord injury personally visited Shams; Shams shared his experience with bedsores and gave them ideas how to prevent bedsores, motivated them to come out of their house, and allowed them to make believe in themselves. One of these 40 individuals was Mr. Prushuttam who got out of his home after two years of injury and he became a National Para Swimmer silver medallist; similarly, Ms. Sweety Bagga and Ms. Padmani entered into swimming pool after a long period of 17 years as results of Shams influence. The above case study illustrates how Shams has inspired and touched thousands of people to live their dreams, including, having them, go back to see their friends and relatives, while others to go back to college and complete their formal and professional education, and in-turn, opened doors of opportunity.

Rakesh Kumar, Ph.D.

Distinguished Professor

National Chair in Cancer Research

Rajiv Gandhi Centre for Biotechnology

(Dept of Biotechnology, Government of India)

Thycaud Post, Poojappura, Thiruvananthapuram

695014 Kerala, INDIA.

Adjunct Professor – Medicine, Hematology/Oncology

Rutgers New Jersey Medical School, Newark, USA

Visiting Professor, Department of Human and Molecular Genetics

Virginia Commonwealth University Medical Center, Richmond, USA