From Being “Declared Clinically Dead” To Becoming India’s First Wheelchair Model, The Story of Virali Modi

In a tale of resilience and determination, Virali Modi’s life took an unexpected turn when she faced a near-fatal health crisis at the age of 14 (in 2006).

“I travelled from America to India during the monsoon season to visit my extended family. After returning to the US, I showed signs of malaria and went to the emergency department when over-the-counter medicines didn’t work,” said Virali Modi while talking to UPDEED.

Multiple tests failed to diagnose any problem, and she got discharged from the hospital. However, Modi started showing distress thereafter and was referred to a bigger hospital.

Doctors decided to do a “spinal tap” – a medical procedure where a doctor inserts a needle into the lower back to collect cerebrospinal fluid for diagnostic purposes.

“I went into cardiac and respiratory arrest and was declared clinically dead for seven minutes while they tried to revive my heart by delivering electric shocks using paddles,” said Modi.

She added that after seven minutes, doctors could bring her heart back but couldn’t bring back her breathing, so she was put on a ventilator.

Modi slipped into a coma for 23 days the next day, with two more instances of being declared clinically dead.

“I will recover” – Virali Modi

Against all odds, it was a remarkable coincidence that Virali regained consciousness on her 15th birthday, leaving her family and medical team astounded. However, the joyous moment was soon replaced by heartbreak as she discovered she was paralysed from the neck down.

Raised as an optimist and a realist, Virali’s dictionary excluded negative words, even amid life’s harshest challenges.

Undeterred by her disability, her initial thoughts were resolute: “I’m going to work on myself and do whatever the doctors say. I’ll recover.”

This indomitable spirit would prove to be the driving force behind her journey to success. Little did she know that her fight for survival would propel her towards becoming an influential figure in the world of modelling, breaking barriers and shattering stereotypes along the way.

Modi said, “As a teenager, I always wanted to do modelling or acting. After my life-changing experience in the hospital, I didn’t know if I could ever accomplish my dream of becoming a model.”

Virali held on to her childhood dream of modelling and acting.

The turning point came in 2014 when she participated in the Miss Wheelchair India contest and secured second place. The triumph filled her with newfound hope and reaffirmed her belief that she could achieve her dreams despite her disability.

Not an easy road to tread on

Despite her remarkable achievements, Virali acknowledges that her journey is not without hurdles. Accessibility remains the most significant

challenge for her and countless people with disabilities across India.

From inadequate infrastructure to the absence of ramps in public places, the barriers are pervasive, said Modi.

Another pressing issue she confronts is the perception of sympathy, which she believes is an experience shared by many individuals with disabilities. Shifting the narrative from sympathy to empowerment is essential for building an inclusive society

However, she was not alone. Modi’s family was pivotal in her journey to becoming a model.

Her parents stood by her side, offering unwavering support and encouragement. They empowered her to chase her aspirations and become the best version of herself, proving that a strong support system can make all the difference.

Modelling industry’s challenges

While her modelling career took flight, Virali encountered numerous challenges highlighting the need for more inclusivity and accessibility within the industry.

As per Modi, many studios and locations were not wheelchair-accessible, making it difficult for her to navigate the space.

There is a lack of understanding from crew members unfamiliar with working with people with disabilities, she added.

However, these obstacles only fueled her determination to make a lasting impact and drive positive change.

A message of perseverance: Nothing can stop you

Modi passionately advocates for increased awareness and vocal activism to tackle issues faced by the disabled community.

She urges individuals to speak up against the lack of accessibility and challenge societal perceptions. In unity lies the power to drive change, and exemplifies the strength of collective voices in shaping a more inclusive world.

According to Modi, regardless of one’s background or abilities, determination and self-belief can overcome any obstacle.

Dreams are within reach for those who are willing to work relentlessly to achieve them, said Modi.

With her spirit of resilience and advocacy, Virali continues to inspire countless individuals, proving that the human spirit knows no bounds.

As she walks the runway of life, Virali Modi not only dazzles with her poise and grace but also leaves an indelible mark on society, fostering hope, empowerment, and a future filled with possibilities for people with disabilities.

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