A Personal Journey

[It is the rarest of souls that are presented with the opportunity to leave the Earthly realm and go Home to the etheric realms to be welcomed Home with honor. Rarer still are the few who chose to turn that aside to continue their earthly mission.

The following is my account of one of those souls, my wife Sangeet, who is very special to me and to so many others. The events in this story happened over April and May 2018.]

I slumped onto the floor with my knees tight up against my aching chest, tears rolling down my face soaking the days-old clothes I was wearing.

“Has Sangeet taught her final class?” “Has the final question unknowingly been asked by a student?” “Was it at least a good one?” “Was the 10-hour Kundalini Yoga Teacher Training class she taught the day before her 5-hour spinal surgery the swan song of this dedicated, genuine, and beloved teacher?”

“Have I hugged my wife for the very last time?”

“What will we all do, Now?”

My mind was racing a thousand thoughts a moment. And then it was as if I could hear Sangeet in the Emergency Room speak to me through the wall my back was pressed up against to “breathe deep, I am still here.”

I think this is when Amar Atma Singh Khalsa recited the “final prayers” of all Sikhs – just to be sure all bases were covered.

What in the world got us to this time and place, all of us gathering in this hospital room praying and waiting to hear whether or not our beloved Sangeet would live, would stay with us?

It all started with what was supposed to be a straight-forward surgery, a laminectomy or cleanout of Sangeet’s whole lumbar spine done without rods and screws to fuse the results. Nothing went as usual.

Four days after “the big surgery” on April 16th , Sangeet was still screaming from unbelievable pain, even when a hospital bed sheet would accidentally touch her foot or thigh. The screams were sudden and lasting for many moments.

Each day a group of usmany students and myselfgathered around her ICU bed and give Reiki or did prayers, everything we could to help.

At times the sessions were punctuated with Sangeet teaching us topics on such aspects as the intimate and interdependent influences the Ether plane and Earthly plane has on us. “Us” being the gathering of Kundalini Yoga teachers and practitioners, the healers of today and tomorrow.

They were quite “heady” sessions. Sometimes there was immediate relevance to our lives, sometimes they were incomprehensible acorns that you store away knowing they will sprout and make sense when the situation is right.

In the midst of the bedside Dharma talks would be a scream, a clutching agony, a moment when no one moved because we didn’t want to make the pain worse if we did the wrong thing. Usually the pain was from Sangeet adjusting her legs or motioning for a rest room break.

It was exhilarating to sit through the Dharma talks, and heart breaking to witness the pain. And the pain was 24 hours a day. It did not lessen in the evening or night. In fact the nurses had to shut the room door because the sounds would upset the other ICU patients.

What lead up to “The Surgery” and the pain?

A Painful Journey Since September 16, 2016

It all started on September 16, 2016 when Sangeet was walking across the room to sit in her mediation chair to lead the 2-1/2 hour meditation “Journey to Brahm Prakash.” A searing , burning, stabbing pain shot through her back, her legs buckled , and she screamed as she almost collapsed.

The students waiting the start of the meditation, both in person, and on live-stream, didn’t know what to do, and were very shaken.

With help, Sangeet made it to her mediation chair and began the meditation. Sangeet lead us in a strong “Tuning In” but it was obvious that the burning stabbing pain had returned. Sangeet bravely pushed aside the pain and kept up chanting with us for an hour.

We all knew how important this meditation is to her. Sangeet’s first “Journey to Brahm Prakash” 2-1/2 hour meditation was on 11-11-11 on a rock outcropping in Sedona, Arizona. It was an incredible experience that all of us cherish and continue once a month to this day. Sangeet has never missed leading the meditation, and we knew tonight she would fight through the pain and keep up until her body could keep up no more. That is just how this Philadelphia-born “country girl” is made, and she often said that she wouldn’t have it any other way.

After an hour Sangeet could no longer push aside the pain and so with tears she wrapped up the meditation. I sent most of the students home while Sangeet sat in her chair waiting for them to leave. The few close students that remained helped me get her to bed. They were visibly shaken by this sudden onset of pain.

Over the ensuing 18 months Sangeet and I talked to every person who would talk to us and followed every lead no matter where it lead in an attempt to definitely determine the cause(s) and trigger(s) of the pain and means to relieve it. We went through most of our savings perusing alternative treatments and compensating for lost wages. The weekly therapeutic massages, bi-weekly osteopathic manipulations, bi-weekly accupuncture, and daily Reiki from many, many students all contributed to “keeping Sangeet going” while we were searching for the right people and the right solution(s).

Sangeet had MRIs, X-rays, CT scans, “radiation” tests standing, laying down, bending, and twisting.

She had blood tests, blood flow tests, cardiac stress tests, and well, basically anything that ended in “test.” Nerve near-impingement showed up with some narrowing of the spinal canal, but nothing that horrible.

During those 18 months the pain moved from her back down into her legs. Sangeet began loosing feeling in her feet and legs especially at night. She would wake me two or three times every night, sometimes in tears, to massage her legs until the shooting, stabbing pain left.

Some mornings were worse than others. On the tough mornings I would hold her as she slowly walked from her bed to her sadhana spot, then from there to the kitchen. On really tough mornings Sangeet needed a bathing and dressing companion.

Sangeet has not had a restful eight hour sleep since September 16, 2016. She refused all prescription pain medications. In the beginning she did try for three days the ones prescribed, but the pain meds made her thinking “fuzzy” and she felt she couldn’t be at her best for students and clients. So she followed an anti-inflammatory diet and lived with the pain to be a better teacher.

During this time we followed up on several leads that suggested nerve impingement. This lead to interviews with four spinal surgeons. Each surgeon noted that the MRI, CT, and x-ray scans showed nerve impingement in the lumbar region and was likely the cause of the pain.

Although their diagnoses were similar, their remedies were quite different. The first three recommendations were for a “laminectomy” with “fusing” various vertebrae. Wow, “fusion” is scary and looks primitive. Think Doc Holliday goes shopping at Home Depot. [1, 2]

The fourth and most recent surgeon suggested a “laminectomy” only – no fusion. [3] It is common for a laminectomy-only patient to start walking a day or two after surgery and be discharged in 3-5 days. It is a more conservative approach to nerve impingment repair that heals in weeks rather than long months common with laminectomy-fusion combinations.

March 2018 sneaked up on us quickly and with it our self-imposed deadline to “do something” was staring us straight in the face.

“Do we know enough to make an excellent decision?” and “Is there someone else we should talk to?” were common sentiments in our heart-to-heart talks.

We both knew what needed to be done – “Take a Hukam!” We went to our Sikh scriptures to hear the answer. With Guru’s blessing and a quick numerology check we set the surgery date for Monday April 16th at 7:30 a.m.

Sangeet and I arrived at the hospital at 4:45 a.m. Yes, we were a little anxious! And excited. Okay, I was excited, Sangeet was quietly anxious. And yet calm and cool as a cucumber. Or at least she fooled me into thinking that!

It seemed like just moments went by and it was time to give Sangeet a husbandly kiss and remind her that she was in Guru’s hands and we’d all be there cheering for her.

Five long hours later and with L1 through L5 cleaned up from 78-plus years of living, the surgeon informed us, in the most casual manner, that the procedure was a success and that the patient is doing well. Whoo Hoo and Wahe Guru!

It was great to get the official word from the surgeon, but we kinda knew how things were going in the OR because, as it turns out, her anesthesiologist is a Kundalini Yoga student and was chanting “Wahe Guru” in Sangeet’s ear during the surgery!

I remember texting everybody the good news and that Sangeet should start walking by the end of the day.That was Monday morning.

Days of Debilitating Pain

Thursday morning arrived empty handednot even a crumb of hope for relief. It had been three days of debilitating pain throughout her backside and legs.

Daytime was just as difficult as the darkest hours of night. The worst were her heels and toes. We all had to keep vigil that her calves were resting on a pillow in such as way that each heel was resting just a little above the bed sheets. And pillows being pillows, they would flatten out, heels touching the bed, and Sangeet in mid-sentence would stiffen her arms and her hands would crush anything they could grasp as she let out unsettling sounds.

We would reposition the pillows and Sangeet would exhale and resume her thoughts.

The toes and tops of her feet were just as sensitive and were always sticking out from the bottom of the bed sheets. The hospital staff was forever wanting to pull the sheets over her feet and usually we caught the sheet before it settled down on her feet, but not always.

By the end of Thursday the floor nurses strongly requested that the door to Sangeet’s room be kept closed at all times. It seems that the many and varied sounds of pain were disrupting the recovery of other patients.

As much as I wanted to, I refrained from confronting the nurses and pointing out that closing a door doesn’t fix the problem. (You’re welcome, Sangeet.)

The next day, Friday, the surgeon examined Sangeet and listened to our observations. After a considerable and uncomfortable amount of time to think about Sangeet’s pain situation, he spoke honestly about never having seen this amount of “discomfort” before. Typically by now patients are walking “normally” and getting ready to be moved into a rehabilitation facility.

He did have a theory that made sense, though. Maybe what is happening is similar to what happens when your foot falls “asleep” and then starts to “wake up.” You know how when your foot has fallen asleep so deeply that you can no longer tell you even have a foot, and it begins waking up and the stinging tingling pain hurts so much that you just want to take your foot off but since you can’t you stand there motionless with your foot in the air hoping no one is watching? And after a couple of eternity-lasting minutes you try touching one toe to the ground to see if it is safe to resume standing there looking like a normal person?

Well, that was Sangeet, except that she is in a bed, in a hospital, five days without a shower, eating only ice chips, wearing a peeky-boo hospital gown, and right about now really, really wishing she could impersonate a “normal” person.

Eventually everyone said their “good byes” and Sangeet drifted off for the night as best as possible. That night seemed no different for me. I stayed with her each night, catching whatever sleep I could. And yes, Sangeet’s feet were sticking out below the numerous sheets and blankets.

Sangeet's Special Invitation Home

The night for Sangeet, however, was very different.

Morning came and Sangeet pushed aside her covers, “log rolled” over until her legs hung over the side of the hospital bed, toes touching the floor, and she enthusiastically commanded, “Hari Nam, come over here, something very special has happened and I want to tell you about it!”

I knew something was up. Sangeet hadn’t been able to sit up on her own and without severe pain since coming out of surgery 6 days before. Yet there she was sitting on the edge of the bed and with only a mild grimace on her face.

I sat in a nearby chair and scooted it in real close. I knew what Sangeet was about to tell me was going to be special, and important.

Sangeet said that at first the night was no different than any other night -she laid in bed saying her prayers like she has always done for the 35 years I’ve known her. And there were the middle-of-the-darn-night-I’m-trying-to-sleep hospital interruptions she had grown accustomed toblood samples taken, “vitals” measured and recorded, commode rendezvous, etc.

At some point in the “Amrit Vela”, that magical time in the very early morning before the sun has gotten out of bed, Sangeet was in her “special sleep”, the one where she “travels” and takes care of things. She and I call this her “Journey Sleep.”

This time was different and unlike any other Journey Sleep she ever had since childhood. This time she said she had been “visited”by a special presence and told that she “would be welcomed Home with Honor.” She was told that everything was set if that is what she chose to do.

Sangeet said that there was a bonding and unspoken sharing between them. She described the communion as lifting the heaviest burdens from her soul. And Sangeet spoke of the inexplicable experience of being able to “exhale from life.”

Instead of going Home, she requested that her prayer be granted. It is the prayer that is always with her and has always been since before I first met Sangeet at the Brooklyn, NY Ashram in 1983. Her prayer is simple: “If it is pleasing to you God, may I complete my mission with grace and dignity, and inspire others along the way.”

Sangeet’s wish was granted and she returned to her body, a body that at that time seemed almost pain free.

Later that day, after an unusual amount of more poking, prodding, measuring, inspecting, questioning and pretty much anything else that could be thought of to verify that the unimaginable pain of yesterday was indeed mostly gone, Sangeet was discharged to a skilled nursing facility (a “SNF” and pronounced “sniff” in hospital-speak) to regain her strength enough to move into an intensive physical rehabilitation facility.

Sangeet and I were settled in the SNF by mid afternoon and so we decided to take a short nap. We woke up about 6 p.m. and we wrote ourselves a prescription for a celebration. I was giddy with joy – the surgery was done, we were out of the hospital, and in a couple of days we’d be headed to rehab. Next stop, home! So I thought. What could be a more perfect way to celebrate this milestone than to share a little of Sangeet’s favorite Key lime coconut “ice cream!” Whoo Hoo!

Pulmonary Crisis!

I soon returned from the store and eagerly walked into Sangeet’s room and was asking her which movie she wanted to watch, after all, she is the “surgery hero” and has the long scar on her back to prove it. And then I noticed that she was not very responsive. I first thought that maybe I just woke her up and she was a little groggy and gave her a few moments to collect her wits.

I asked her again about which movie she preferred and that’s when it was plainly obvious there was a problem. Sangeet’s mouth was barely moving, trying to inhale, but there was almost no respiration. Her eyes were wide open and fear spread across her face as she stared at me silently saying “h-e-l-p.”

Immediately a portable oxygen unit was brought in and cranked up to max while I loudly talked to her, keeping her awake and breathing. I put a pulse oxymeter on her index finger to check O2 saturation levels and gradually she was able to breathe enough to get the readings out of the danger zone and into the not-very-good zone, which was good enough until the Fire Department’s Emergency Services arrived and took over.

The firemen and firewoman quickly assessed what life saving measures were needed and applied them. When Sangeet was stable, they carefully lifted her up and placed her on a fully outfitted gurney. Once she was strapped down, the emergency team quickly rolled the gurney to the ambulance and rushed to the nearest ER. In the ambulance she had a breathing tube inserted through her mouth, down past her vocal cords, and into her lungs to do t the breathing for her.

By this time hospital chaplain and one of Sangeet’s dearest students, Amar Atma Singh Khalsa, arrived and we met the ambulance as Sangeet was being put in. I jumped into my car and he into his and we followed the ambulance to the ER.

At the ER entrance I got out of my car and ran down the hall chasing the gurney of our beloved Sangeet. Of course no amount of pleading got me into the Operating Room to hold her hand, but as the doors shut tight, I caught glimpses of her as the doctors, nurses, and assistants hovered over her.

And so here I am, slumped onto the floor with my knees tight up against my aching chest, tears rolling down my face soaking my days-old clothes I was wearing.

I couldn't help myself think “Has Sangeet taught her final class?” “Have I hugged my wife for the very last time?” among a thousand “What if” thoughts popping into my head every moment.

But it was Sangeet's reassuring voice I heard inside my head and heart while on the floor with my back pressed up against the outside of the Emergency Room room wall that kept me calm, kept me knowing that there was still a chance everything would work its self out.  “Breathe deep, I am still here” Sangeet said in that warm intimate connecting way that only a special student or spouse would ever experience.

We waited anxiously for what seemed like an eternity for a doctor to give us a sign all the while praying and sending ‘long distance Reiki’.

Not much was said. Over the years we all experienced God directly talking with her and so we knew that ultimately Sangeet’s destiny to live or pass on would be up to the conversation she was inevitably having.

Eventually, eternity ended with one of the Emergency Doctors informing us that Sangeet was stable, on a “endotrachael intubation” (breathing machine) [4], and would be kept unconscious for the time being. We looked at each other and exclaimed “Wahe Guru” as the doctor continued with his update indicating that the cause of Sangeet’s respiratory collapse was still unknown.

The following day saw Sangeet’s condition being kept the same as the night before -unconscious and with assisted breathing and she was eventually moved into the ICU. We all stayed with her chanting, meditating, and ‘Reikiing’ her.

The pulmonologist on duty was set to investigate what might be living in Sangeet’s lungs, so she began a procedure called a “Bronchoscopy.” [5]

For a few moments my mind was distracted from the weight of the uncertainties as the doctor slid a video camera down Sangeet’s intubation tube and into her lungs. Right there on the computer monitor were the insides of Sangeet’s lungs! Up, down, left, right the video camera searched for signs of the respiration failure culprit. Along with the camera traveled a suction tube that collected samples during the journey.

A few minutes later the camera and suction tube were pulled out of her lungs, the ‘haul’ of lung fluid goo was sealed up in a small clear bottle. I just couldn’t help it, I was fascinated with the contents of that bottle. So I asked the doctor to give me a ‘tour’ of the various congealed globs, floaties, and clearish fluids in that amazing bottle!

The bottle was rushed downstairs to the lab and the goo put into petri dishes to begin a five day grow fest in hopes of finding answers.

The next day the nurses gradually weaned Sangeet off the meds that kept her unconscious. She was groggy, of course, and disoriented as awareness of her surroundings returned. Several times she asked me in a hoarse whisper “What is this place” and “Why am I here?”

Over the next couple of days I filled in the missing pieces with her but the whole situation still didn’t make sense. It was a delicate time conveying just the broad details. Sangeet, bless her youthful inquisitive heart, still wanted to know how being discharged from the surgery hospital landed her in the ER in a different hospital in a different part of town and on the same day.

[Note: days later Sangeet told me she had left to ‘go Home’, with a second invitation and then decided to come back to finish her mission. The force of her re-entry left her unsure whether she was in fact on the same time line, and so forth. Some day she’ll tell us her story on that one.]

The answer to what created this whole pulmonary collapse was hopefully in that goo sucked out of her lungs. I knew we’d just need to practice our best yogic patience until the culture report was ready.

Later in the day a doctor gave us an update on the status of the lung goo petri dish culture. Until now, the doctors were operating on the hypothesis that pneumonia was the most likely cause of the respiratory collapse and were confident that the culture would bear that out. So when we were told that there really weren’t any pneumonia strains growing in the petri dishes, we were quite surprised, and then puzzled. However, the big revelation was about to come and the really big shoe about to be dropped inescapably right there in Sangeet’s and my lap.

The report reflected several days of culture growth and there was one standout performer. An old dormant nemesis in hibernation deep down in the bottom of Sangeet’s warm cozy lungs had been awakened from its lethargy and kicked into high gear. It’s ugly, rarely seen and tough to treat. If it has its way, it won’t be taking any prisoners. It’s known as MAC.

Sangeet's Healing Path Ahead

MAC stands for “mycobacterium avium complex” [6]. Several years ago it took up residency in Sangeet’s lungs, nobody knows when. Some theorized it could have been in childhood. It was discovered in 2012 and at that time thought to be a minor player but one that needed watching.

Her pulmonologist explained that MAC is “a bugger” to cure, with non-relapse “cure” rates of only 50% to 60%. And the standard allopathic treatment is extremely tough on the body – 18 months of a daily three-antibiotic cocktail via IV. The treatment regimen includes frequent testing, which should show at least initial progress in fighting this disease by the end of the first month. At some point, the daily dose of the antibiotics can be adjusted to three times each week. Hopefully at some point at or before the 18th month enough of the most recent tests come back negative for MAC and the treatment can be concluded.

Think about this treatment strategy for a moment 18 months of antibiotics and the system-wide impact it can have.

Sangeet and I don’t like to use antibiotics for more than a few days at a time and only when nothing else will work. It is well established that long term use of antibiotics can cause widespread damage to our digestive system, including the intestinal epithelium cells, and a variety of other problems. [7]

Basically you take a big gamble while trading the health of your gut, liver and other vital organs in the hopes of saving your lungs.

This is why our pulmonologist agreed not to follow this treatment plan for MAC as long as it was “dormant” or a-symptomatic and check on it with a CT scan every 6 to 9 months. As long as it remains dormant, okay. The down side is reduced lung capacity, particularly at altitudes over 4,000 feet and I remedy that with portable oxygen as needed.

Over the years since this was first spotted, this strategy, along with an excellent diet, knowledgeable nutrition and supplementation, exercise, Reiki, accupuncture, weekly theraputic massage, semi-annual pulmonologist visits, and bi-weekly oesteopathic manipulations have worked well for Sangeet. Yes, it is a significant and ongoing investment in time and resources, but we actually look at it as an investment in her wellbeing and capacity as a master-teaccher.

Reading the medical literature for MAC is quite unsettling. First, there is not a “one treatment cures all cases” strategy. Second, the patient’s immune system health plays a critical role in success. MAC is an “opportunistic organism” that takes hold in a body with a weakened immune system. The organism is found throughout the world and can be found in soil, water, food, and pets. Pretty much where ever people are, the MAC organisms are not far away. But its infection rate where symptoms are measurable is very low in the general population and so is typically not a suspect in an illness. And third, the “cure” rate according to the National Institute of Health averages between 50% and 60%.

So, as of this writing on May 8, 2018, the events over the past three weeks have brought to the forefront of our conversations the substantial changes to our lives that will have to be made, as we navigate these three very difficult pathways to health daily and simultaneously over the next 18 months.

I see the path ahead as navigating 3 rivers I named “River of Stability”, “River of Vitality”, and “River of Deep Breath.”

The “River of Stability” flows through all physical activities and creates strength, stability, flexibility, and endurance. It is the physical structure of the body and its mobility. Currently this River is focused on strengthening overall endurance and learning to coordinate body movements once again. A few weeks down the road the next phase will focus on the spine and the area of the laminectomy.

At this time Sangeet is a resident at an Intensive Rehabilitation Hospital where she engages in three hours each day of physical and occupational therapies. Its pretty basic, getting her able to walk short distances (as at home) and care for herself including showering and dressing. Because of the spinal surgery, for the time being, she is forbidden to “bend, lift, or twist” until the musculature around the spine and neighboring areas heals sufficiently to begin core-strengthening work. So, no standard yoga warm-ups for a few months while she heals.

The “River of Vitality” is the most important of the three “Rivers of Life” and without question the most difficult to navigate successfully. “Vitality,” as used in most western medical contexts, looks at gross measurements such as blood and organ-based chemical analyses and is a rather superficial compilage wrapped under the term “healthy.”

That is really missing the mark, when you look beyond the allopathic understanding of what a human is. Vitality, particularly as expressed in the advanced practices of "Ayurveda" (the broad and deep understanding from ancient and modern India known as the “science of life”) is a fuller, richer, all-encompassing and deeper understanding of the human being.

Vitality is living and experiencing life through all of energy fields and living such a life that they fully integrate body, mind and spirit.

The measure of one's vitality is a measure of one's universal well-being. It is manifest as a suppleness and a resilience to the challenges of life. It is the source of "inner strength" and an outer radiance.

Important for strengthening are the immune system and the emotional system as well as the digestive system. Underlying this is the re-establishment of balance. Sangeet has taken quite a few hits in all these regards. Strengthening your vitality means raising your equilibrium point and bringing it closer to a true harmonic balance between all the aspects that make up a human being.

So to apply that to Sangeet’s journey on her River of Vitality, if we were to proceed with a massive antibiotic 18-month treatment, it would be critical to boost this to have any hope of seeing her through such an assault.

At this point we are still considering options for advancing her vitality in order to set a strategic plan. Obviously we will be working with her pulmonologist. We know for certain we will be utilizing a top Ayurvedic professional and we have an excellent recommendation. This will include modifications in nutrition and lifestyle.

And finally, the third river, the “River of Deep Breath”, has the singular focus of eradicating the MAC bacterium while repairing Sangeet’s lungs. As noted above, the treatment strategy has not yet been decided until we can improve her vitality and that will take at least 2-months.

If we were to embark on the antibiotic plan our approach would be to mitigate the harmful side effects while still eradicating the virus. Our goals would be the same for any other strategy as well.

The Road So Blessed

I know the journey ahead for Sangeet and myself will be blessed by God, Guru, Yogi Bhajan as a living presence in our lives, and her very extended spiritual, student and client families. Many good, welcome, and long overdue changes will happen, maybe even a wish emphatically expressed over the years by our beloved friend who passed a couple of years go, Dr. Abram Ber, for Sangeet to “Act a little bit more like your age!”

Maybe it is time to rest a little more, reflect a little more, and write a lot more.

It is absolutely time to pray a lot more, although it seems that God has been keeping a very watchful eye on Sangeet over the years and the two of them are pretty tight.

Into each of our lives comes the moment when the final curtain is drawn and we “exhale from life.” The accounting of our efforts is written into the Akashic Records of history. Karma and Dharma are placed on the scale and the soul is sent on its way.

It is my privilege to know, love, and serve a rarest of rare souls that won’t be “sent on its way” but rather welcomed in the grandest of all possible manners to sit at the feet of God.

God bless you, Sangeet Kaur Khalsa. I love you!

Your devoted husband,

Hari Nam Singh
May 8, 2018

P.S. Throughout all of this was an ever-present acknowledgement that Sangeet is one of the "last of her kind." The song "Last Of My Kind" by Jason Isbell captures some of this sentiment.  Click HERE for a live version on YouTube.


[1] Animated video of the fusion procedure:

[2] X-ray of a fusion:

[3] Animated video of the laminectomy procedure:

[4] Endotracheal Intubation procedure:

[5] Bronchoscopy procedure:

[6] Mycobacterium Avium:

[7] Long Term Use Of Antibiotics:

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