Heart specialist

MBBS: Dr Sivaramakrishna Padmavati: Meet the First and Oldest Female Heart Specialist in India

She is not only the mother figure or the deity, but she is the god of cardiology in India ”, says famous cardiologist Dr Ashok Seth of Fortis Escorts Heart Institute of Dr Sivaramakrishna Iyer Padmavati, who at 96 years old , is as active as it was. when she started caring for patients in India 60 years ago.

A recipient of the Padma Vibhushan, the country’s second highest civilian honor, and Padma Bhushan, Padmavati not only trained in cardiology in the UK and US in the late 1940s and early 1950s, but she has also taught many of the best cardiologists, Seth notes. “She is deeply learned. She created the whole concept of cardiac treatment in India from scratch, ”he adds.

“I saw the world of cardiology grow before my eyes,” says Padmavati, sitting in her office at the hospital. The cardiology veteran has many firsts to her credit: she is the first female cardiologist in India; she created the country’s first cardiology clinic; she established the first department of cardiology in an Indian medical school; she founded India’s first heart foundation to raise awareness of heart disease.

Such a long journey

She was born in Burma (now called Myanmar) in 1917, the year of the October Revolution which redrawn the political map of the world, the year of the birth of former Indian Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi, and a year before the anti-apartheid icon Nelson Mandela was born. Her father and older brother were lawyers and she grew up in Mergui, near the oil fields of Burma. A brilliant student, she placed first in the province in her graduation exam. Thanks to her exemplary performance, her “local school” was “brought up to standard”, she recalls.

And then she continued to study medicine at Rangoon Medical College where she was the first student. The young maverick completed her MBBS magna cum laude, winning the medal for best outgoing student and several other accolades. “I’ve won so many honors that I can’t remember them all,” says Padmavati, who felt what she calls her “infatuation” with swimming during her “days in Burma”.

She held on: she swims every day for six months a year in the Ford Foundation’s exclusive pool in Delhi. In winter in Delhi and for the rest of the months of the year, she prefers long walks.

She learned the art of reading from her father who, she says, was devoted to books. “I am the keeper of the library here [at the National Heart Institute in south Delhi] and reading helps me keep up to date with the latest developments in cardiology, ”she says.

Endure war

Right after completing her medical studies in Rangoon, Japan invaded Burma at the height of WWII and she had to return to India. “We had to run to save our lives, literally,” explains the famous cardiologist. “My parents were told to leave the house in 24 hours. My father was there for many, many years. Then we had to take the plane from Mergui on the last flight. The men were left behind and only the women left. Things were going pretty badly, ”she recalls.

Padmavati, his sister Janaki and their mother came to Tamil Nadu and bought a house in Coimbatore. For the next three years, until 1945, there was no news of the men in the family. When the war ended, the family was reunited. Padmavati left for postgraduate studies in London. Soon she became a fellow of the Royal College of Physicians in London and the Royal College of Physicians in Edinburgh.

Things of the heart

Padmavati remembers that she was deeply attached to her family, but also wanted to study medicine from the masters. She joined Johns Hopkins University in the United States to train under Dr Helen Taussig who performed the first surgeries on blue babies – children born with a congenital anomaly of the heart – which was a milestone important in modern cardiology.

After completing her stay at Johns Hopkins, Padmavati went to study under Dr. Paul Dudley White at Harvard Medical School in Boston for the next four years. White is widely regarded as the father of modern cardiology. She also studied in Sweden before returning to India in the early 1950s. She points out that it was Swedish scientists who pioneered the concept of the echocardiogram (used to scan the movements of the heart), drawing inspiration from equipment used in scuba diving. “I missed my parents a lot. I came to Delhi and started to stay with my sister [Janaki] whose husband was a career diplomat, ”says Padmavati.

Call from india

She was planning to return to the United States to begin her practice, but decided to try her luck in India. She accepted the offer. “Lady Hardinge was a primitive place then. They only had daughters. There were no male patients at that time. Anyway, I decided to stay behind, ”she said, stressing that she was in love with the“ Gandhian qualities ”of the leaders and ministers of the time.

Less than a year after joining, in 1954, she was promoted to professor of medicine and she also set up the first catheterization laboratory in northern India, which housed diagnostic imaging equipment to inspect arteries. and the heart chambers for abnormalities. Men also began to visit the hospital, to the great anguish of the “old people who bristled with anger”, laughs Padmavati who is happy that many of his students at the time are now heads of cardiology departments in various institutes including Savitri Jain (in the United States); Saroj Prakash at Maulana Azad Medical College (MAMC) in Delhi; and Santosh Sud, cardiologist at Auburn University, Alabama.

Lady Hardinge was where she did most of her research because she was shocked at the number of illnesses she could discover outside of medical textbooks. “I received awards for that – I received money from the Rockefeller Foundation to do research on such diseases,” she maintains, adding that she received “PL 480 money. To do medical research. Through this program, India bought grain from the United States and the money was returned to India; part of the proceeds was used for medical research. “I have worked a lot on rheumatic fever and lung disease. There was then no cardiology. It was I who started the first cardiac clinic in Lady Hardinge.

More responsibilities

Thanks to her pioneering research in cardiology, Padmavati was in great demand as a teacher and administrator. In 1967, the Indian government asked her to take over the management of MAMC where she also established a department of cardiology. She also helped set up the cardiology department at GB Pant Hospital, which was on the MAMC campus.

She also held the additional charge of Irwin Hospital in Delhi (now called Lok Nayak Jai Prakash Narayan Hospital). MAMC had 26 departments and it was Padmavati who introduced the DM course in Cardiology, which admits postgraduate students. “It was a big company,” Padmavati recalls. But back then, times were different and things a lot less complicated back then, she adds. Padmavati believes the bureaucracy was bad then and worse today. What helped her was her direct access to the Lieutenant Governor of Delhi, AN Jha, who helped her overcome the bureaucratic hassles.

Mission possible

After retiring from public service in 1981, she helped establish the National Heart Institute (NHI) in Delhi. As a director, she had no doubts about her role: to promote research and raise awareness of heart disease. She is the Founder and Director of the All India Heart Foundation, “a sister company of NHI” since 1962. In rural areas of India, the foundation organizes “heart camps” to familiarize people with the disease and its causes. .

It was the first exclusive heart institute in India and Asia; its wealthy successor Escort Hospital was built in 1988. According to the WHO, 17.3 million people worldwide died of cardiovascular disease in 2008. Of this number, 80% of deaths occur in low-income countries and intermediary, particularly in India, which accounts for 21% of the global burden of disease.

From 20 beds, the institute has now grown to 100 beds. “But he can still grow. Unlike many new hospitals, we don’t have any money elsewhere. We get money with what we earn, ”she said in a neutral tone. She did not elaborate. She finds it encouraging that although heart disease is on the increase in India for various reasons, technology and biochemistry have shown rapid growth in the fight against the threat. “I still touch and use my eyes and ears to treat patients, but I also have to know the technology. You can’t stop the march of technology, ”says Padmavati, who says she attends at least two world heart conferences a year to keep“ up to date ”.

When it comes to using drugs to treat heart disease, this renowned cardiologist, also an expert in non-invasive surgery, says, “Treat drugs like your minions. You shouldn’t let them become your master. Padmavati sees patients 12 hours a day, five days a week. It helps that she is a polyglot who speaks Hindi, Tamil, Burmese, a handful of German and French in addition to Telugu and Mayalaya, she says. “I never got married, but I never felt bad either because I am always busy with patients and my research,” summarizes Padmavati whose paternal grandmother lived to be 103 years old. She attributes her longevity to genes, luck and hard work.

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