Pre-empting Seizures – Rajlakshmi Borthakur

Swapna Narayanan

Motherhood is all about caring, nurturing and developing your children into successful, capable and independent adults. No mother has it easy. Some have it tough, some tougher. But some mothers need to go way beyond to ensure their children have a happy and good quality of life.

And that needs a significant amount of grit, gumption and determination.

gvjEyra is happy to bring to you one such mother – Rajlakshmi Borthakur – who stood up and challenged her circumstances, chose to fight her destiny head on and has now become a designer, scientist, and entrepreneur for an Epilepsy detection device.

Christened as TJay, named after her 7 year old son Tejas, the product is a wearable glove that aims to pre-empt an epileptic seizure and will warn in advance, enabling the caretakers to immediately reach out for medical attention.

Epilepsy, as most of you will know, is a neurological disorder that leads to recurrent seizures.

In a short span, Raji has taken some significant strides in her quest to enable a good quality life for people with epilepsy. A well known figure in the startup community in Bengaluru and international forums, Raji has received many awards for her innovation, and was recognised by Honorable Prime Minister Narendra Modi as a budding entrepreneur from North East India – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3hj8clwMO7s.

She is also listed as one of the 12 ‘Women transforming India’ by Niti Aayog, United Nations and MyGov.  See more at – https://vimeo.com/198056837

While TJay is going to be launched next year, Raji will launch another product – Xaant – catering to people in the mental health space.

I recently caught up with this amazing and determined mother, product strategist and technologist crusading against seizures, convulsions and epileptic attacks.

Swapna: Raji, you have been ascribed many a titles – a noted technologist, a key innovator, start up to look out for etc. But beneath all this is a mother. A mother who wanted to pre-empt her child’s needs and be ready with a solution to address the need. Tell us something about your foray into developing TJay.

Raji: Well, to be honest, I started reading up about Epilepsy only to know more about it. I believed that if I do not understand the problem myself, how will I help Tejas, my son. Also, since this is complex neurological condition, I was entirely dependent on the doctors. And, if doctors are unable to provide a solution, then I needed to understand why so?

Doctors, by nature are very busy. They do not have time to explain things to me. As a concerned mother, I always had so many questions, and somehow doctors were unable to answer them all. My questions used to range from – why this is happening? what is the risk? what are the side effects? what is sudden death in Epilepsy? did you screen my son for it? – so on and so forth.

nbSo with that basic thought I started reading up.

And I found that there are many solutions available. There are various types of solutions that span across wearables, attachables, mattresses, IOT based solutions etc., yet they were not being recommended or used.

Being a technology person, I found that odd. Why are people not aware of solutions like these? Why are they not being used?

Eventually, I realised that somewhere there is a dearth of intent.

There was a clear gap that needed to be filled up.

So, I embarked on this journey.

Swapna: When a mother realises that her child needs to struggle to live a normal life, she is devastated. I am sure you were too. But how and when did you overcome that feeling and decided to do something about it?

Raji: Let me take a step back. I was extremely upset initially.

While Tejas was fine on the day he was born, he had a seizure the next day. We did not think much immediately. It was only later when we observed that his growth was not normal, that we went to the doctor and realised that he is epileptic.

Needless to say, this was a shocker. I lived in denial for a long time. I wanted him to be normal and was hoping against hope.

Till the moment it dawned on me, that I was more concerned about the society rather than worrying about what he thinks about himself. It struck me that probably my focus should be on how Tejas perceives himself and not how the world perceives him.

And that was my first step, and slowly I learnt to accept. I also realised that it was somewhere selfish of me to think he has to be normal. What about him? What is normal

It is up to us to define what is normal.

And, that is when the healing process began for me, once I accepted. I strongly started believing that this boy has come to me with a purpose. And I have been given the responsibility to nurture him.

So with that, I decided to give him a sense of normalcy. And that had to begin at home. I have a very supportive family that is grounded and practical. My husband is super supportive. My mother in law runs my house, while I work to ensure TJay sees the light of the day. My elder child is 16 years old and she is extremely maternal.

And today, Tejas is so comfortable and confident. He mingles with children, goes to school and is an undisputed leader of his group constantly bossing around his young friends!

I feel mothers must go for what is right for the child and not what is right for the society. Secondly, I believe in strong relationships. I nurtured relationships with people around me who can help me run my show.

Swapna: How did you pool together the resources to develop something like TJay? While you do have technical background, you still needed a lot more skills on board – medical, neurological, embedded, sensors, RFID etc. – to make this happen. How did you achieve that?

Raji: In my career, while I started as technical writer, I eventually transitioned into a strategic role. As a strategist, I learnt how to put things together, visualise the solution, take some right decisions and build blueprints of the product. And it is this experience of product design and strategy, that helped me put together all things to develop TJay.

I spent the initial three years in only research. From 2012 to 2015, it was solid research across the areas of electronics, processors, sensors, networking, storage, software mobility etc. and at the end of it I connected the dots and had a product blueprint ready. And in 2016, I incorporated TerraBlue XT.

If I have to summarise, I would say motherhood, a little bit of intent, slight craziness and a focused approach has helped me this far.

Swapna: You were recently felicitated by Ivanka Trump and Niti Aayog has recognized you among the Top 12 Women who are transforming India – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2bSl_MPqV8c. While they see you today and are honoring you, how tough was your ride since you conceptualised the idea?

bklnRaji: It was not easy. It is still not. After all, I am a first time CEO.

That said, I did work quite hard in the initial days but am glad today the world is realising the potential of this product.

It has not been an easy journey yet it has been an extremely fulfilling one. I have sought funding, got investors, garnered support from medical fraternity, sought encouragement from international bodies, worked with the universities, faced enough failures and much more in the span of last 6-7 years.

When I began, my social circle was limited to a few cousins and friends. Today, I have a huge social network that is helping me to progress. I have built this brand and got the visibility to launch the product.

And, now I am working hard to deliver up to the expectations.

Swapna: Tell us something about TJay and your recently launched product – Xaant.

Raji: TJay is a smart glove that will sense electrical signals from the patient’s body and enable you to track their health while they carry on with their daily routine of working, sleeping etc. The glove has several sensors that extracts information from the palm of a hand. This information is transmitted continuously to an attached intelligent system that keeps sending this information to our cloud environment at set intervals. This data will help both parents in early detection and management of epilepsy.

gvgnkjWith TJay, we hope to make the lives of people with epilepsy safer and remove some of the uncertainties they deal with every day. We are also trying to make it easier for doctors to arrive at a more accurate and faster diagnosis, with the help of streaming real-time data, collected over long periods of time.

TJay will be launched next year.

While developing TJay, I chose to adopt a modular approach. Since the entire product is an amalgamation of multiple building blocks (each of which is self sustaining), one of the blocks is what I have pulled out and launched as Xaant.

Xaant – pronounced as ‘Shaant’ – is a wearable device to help you cultivate calm in your life. It will help you to understand the state of your mind at any place and any time.

gv m,With Xaant, you get real time data enabling you to recognize what makes you anxious, what triggers your anger or what leads to your stress. You can then use this information to train yourself to become stronger in the face of adversity. As you train, you become more accepting of your life and start seeing yourself as the truly beautiful soul with infinite capabilities, living in harmony with the universe.

Swapna: An amazing journey so far. Like all mothers, I am sure, you have some dreams and aspirations for Tejas. What are those? What would you want Tejas to become?

Raji: Well, I would like Tejas to lead a happy and independent life. And most importantly find love! My dream is he finds love, gets married, has children and lives a fulfilling life like any other human in this world would.

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