Article by Riya Bhargava
The world belongs to the energetic, the dedicated, and the hard working. And hard work will never kill you, never betray you. Such is the thinking of the legendary woman responsible for setting up of India’s first cardiology departments, the first Indian female cardiologist – Dr S I Padmavati.
At the ripe old age of 103, Dr Padmavati is as committed to her work as any person can be. She has retired from active practice but in earlier days she used to work for 12 hours a day, five days a week at the National Heart Institute in Delhi that she founded in 1981. Born in Burma, on 20th June 1917, she received her MBBS degree from Rangoon Medical College and later moved to London, where she continued her further education in the field of medicine. It was while working at hospitals like the National Heart Hospital, National Chest Hospital, London that she developed interest in cardiology. She was always a diligent worker. She applied for a fellowship at the esteemed John Hopkins University in U.S. and decided to pursue her passion in cardiology further. She got a chance to train under famed Dr Helen Taussig, famous for developing surgical treatment for Blue baby syndrome, and later she moved to Harvard Medical School to work under Dr Paul Dudley White, known as the father of modern cardiology.
Dr Padmavati was, and still is an inspiration to many a bright minds. Dr Saroj Prakash, 88, who retired as head of medicine from Maulana Azad Medical College says, “Dr Padmavati was a very good teacher and very thorough. She was the reason why I took up medicine at a time when most women pursuing MBBS would specialize in obstetrics and gynaecology. She used to smile a lot. My friends used to refer to her as MDS – Million Dollar Smile.” An extremely humble person, Dr Padmavati had a special rapport with patients, and some would open only to her. She still visits her institute in Delhi once or twice a week to see some of her older patients.
Dr Padmavati has set up a legacy, one which is too ideal and in the general benefit of the people of India and the world. Starting from setting up North India’s first cardiac catheterisation lab as well as working on a number of research papers at that time, she went on to set up a cardiology department and start DM cardiology for the first time in India as a director of G B Pant Hospital. According to her, the establishment of these two are her biggest accomplishments. All this has not only left countless people in awe for her ever encouraging and inspiring personality, people remember her as an extremely progressive doctor with a vision. “Under her leadership, our department became one of the best in India and produced some of the country’s best cardiologists. Dr Padmavati also pioneered the concept of pre-hospital care in India. She started a mobile coronary care unit which would treat patients in the golden hour. At a time when there were no instruments and devices available, she could arrive at the correct diagnosis just by clinical examination,” says Dr Khalilullah, a colleague at G B Pant Hospital, who developed India’s first pacemaker.
For her immense contribution to cardiology, Dr Padmavati has been awarded Padma Bhushan and Padma Vibhushan awards in the year 1967 and 1992 respectively. She retired in 1976 and has been living with her youngest sister since then. Despite her achievements, she has only one regret. “I could not persuade the authorities to standardize medical education and healthcare so that it becomes accessible and affordable to the masses.” She has however, cultivated her personal assets into a trust that provides free heart surgeries to financially poor patients at the NHI.
People who shine from within don’t need a spotlight. Dr Padmavati’s insight is a beacon of hope for times to come and for people to follow.