india’s first , oldest woman heart specialist
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1st Jul 2013, 11:54 AM #1Guru's of Penmai
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india’s first , oldest woman heart specialist
Dr.S.Padmavathi, 96, India's first woman heart specialist, works five
12-hour days a week-
and swims every day in summer
She is not just the mother figure or god figure, but she is the god of
cardiology in India," says renowned cardiologist Dr Ashok Seth of Fortis
Escorts Heart Institute about Dr Sivaramakrishna Iyer Padmavati, who, at
96, is as active now as she was when she started treating patients in India
60 years ago.
A recipient of the Padma Vibhushan, the country's second-highest civilian
award, and Padma Bhushan, Padmavati not only trained herself in cardiology
from the UK and the US in the late '40s and the early '50s, but also taught
several of India's best cardiologists, .
She created the whole concept of heart treatment in India
"I have seen the world of cardiology grow under my eyes," says Padmavati,
seated in her office in the hospital.
The cardiology veteran has many
firsts to her credit: she is India's first woman cardiologist;
she set up
the country's first cardiology clinic;
she created the first cardiology
department in an Indian medical college;
she founded India's first heart
foundation meant to spread awareness about diseases of the heart.
She was born in Burma (now called Myanmar) in 1917, on the year of the
October Revolution that redrew the world's political map, the year the late
Indian prime minister, Indira Gandhi, was born and a year before
anti-apartheid icon Nelson Mandela's birth.
Her father and older brother
brilliant student, she stood first in the province in her final school
examination. Thanks to her exemplary performance, her "local school" was
she went on to study medicine at the Rangoon Medical
College where she was the first female student.
The young maverick
completed her MBBS magna cum laude, earning the best outgoing student medal
and several other distinctions.
"I won so many honours that I can't
remember all of them," says Padmavati, who picked up what she calls her
"craze" for swimming during her "Burma days".
She has kept at it:
she swims every day for six months a year at the Ford
Foundation's exclusive swimming pool in Delhi.
In Delhi's winter and for
the rest of the months of the year, she prefers long walks.
She learnt the art of reading from her dad whom she says was devoted to
books. "I am the custodian of the library here [at the National Heart
Institute in south Delhi] and reading helps me keep abreast of the latest
developments in cardiology," she says.
Enduring the War
Just after she completed her medical studies in Rangoon, Japan invaded
Burma at the height of World War II and she had to return to India. "We had
to run for our lives, literally," says the noted cardiologist. "
Padmavati, her sister Janaki and their mother came to Tamil Nadu and bought
a home in Coimbatore.
Matters of the Heart
Padmavati remembers that she was deeply attached to her family, but also
wanted to study medicine under the masters.
She joined Johns Hopkins
University in the US to train under Dr Helen Taussig who performed the
first surgeries on blue babies — children born with a congenital defect of
the heart — which was a milestone in modern cardiology.
Having finished her stint at Johns Hopkins, Padmavati went to study under
Dr Paul Dudley White at the 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 for scanning movements of the heart), drawing
inspiration from equipment used in deep-sea diving. "I missed my parents a
lot. I came to Delhi and started staying with my sister [Janaki] whose
husband was a career diplomat," Padmavati says.
Kaur, the then health minister, who offered her a lecturer's position at
Delhi's Lady Hardinge Medical College. She accepted the offer. "Lady
Hardinge used to be a primitive place then. They had only girls. There were
no male patients at that time. Anyway I decided to stay back," she says,
emphasising that she was enamoured of the "Gandhian qualities" of the
leaders and ministers of the time.
Within a year of joining, in 1954, she was promoted to professor of
medicine and she also set up north India's first catheterisation lab, which
housed diagnostic imaging equipment for inspecting the arteries and
chambers of the heart for abnormalities. Men also started visiting the
hospital, much to the anguish of the "old-timers who bristled with anger",
Lady Hardinge was where she did most of her research because she was
shocked by the number of diseases that she could discover outside of
medical textbooks. "I got awards for that — I got money from the
Rockefeller Foundation to do research into such diseases," she maintains
adding that she received "PL 480 money" to do medical research. Through
this scheme, India bought grains from the US and the money was given back
to India; part of the proceeds was used for medical research. "I did a lot
of work on rheumatic fever and lung diseases. There was no cardiology then.
It was I who started the first cardiac clinic at Lady Hardinge."
After retirement from government service in 1981, she helped set up the
National Heart Institute (NHI) in Delhi. She has been founder-director of the All India Heart Foundation,
"a sister concern of NHI" since 1962.
t was India's — and Asia's — first exclusive heart institute; its rich
successor Escorts Hospital was built in 1988. According to WHO, 17.3
million people died worldwide from cardiovascular diseases in 2008. Of
this, 80% of deaths take place in low- and middle-income countries,
especially in India, which accounts for 21% of the world's disease burden.
get money from what we earn," she says matter-of-factly.
As regards the use of medicines to treat heart ailments, this renowned
cardiologist, who is also an expert in non-invasive surgery, says, "Treat
medicines as your servant. You shouldn't let them become your master."
Padmavati sees patients 12 hours a day for five days a week. It helps her
that she is a polyglot who speaks Hindi, Tamil, Burmese, a smattering of
German and French besides Telugu and Mayalayam, she says. "I never married,
but I never felt bad about it either because I am always busy with patients
and my research," sums up Padmavati whose paternal grandmother lived up to
103. She attributes her longevity to genes, luck and hard work.
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1st Jul 2013, 12:24 PM #2
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Re: india’s first , oldest woman heart specialist
You have shared very useful information about Dr.S.Padmavathi, 96, India's first woman heart specialist. thank you sir