Among the women who changed the face of Indian medicine is Dr. SI Padmavati, the first Indian woman to become a Cardiologist. Called the ‘Godmother of Cardiology,’ she is also credited with creating the first cardiology clinic in an Indian medical college, and also started India’s first Heart Foundation.
Born in Myanmar, Padmavati moved to India in 1942, with her mother and sister, during World War II. After completing school, Padmavati pursued medicine at the Rangoon Medical College, and was the first female student. That didn’t deter her from putting her best shot.
After doing her MBBS from Myanmar, she pursued her postgraduate studies in London, and became a fellow of the Royal College of Physicians, London, and the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh. Next, she joined John Hopkins University in the US, under Dr Helen Taussig, who herself is a pioneer in the field, and has been credited with the first surgery on blue babies (those born with a congenital defect of the heart).
Padmavati’s quest for learning knew no bounds, and hence she went on to enrol herself at the Harvard Medical School in Boston, under the guidance of Dr Paul Dudley White, popularly known as the ‘Father of Modern Cardiology.’ Before she made her journey back to India, she also studied briefly in Sweden, a country that is known to have done deep research in ECGs.
Home is where the ‘heart’ is
Although she was to continue her practice in the US, Padmavati decided to return to her homeland after India became a Republic. she got the job of a lecturer at Lady Hardinge Medical College in Delhi.
Just within a year of taking up the job of a lecturer at Lady Hardinge Medical College in New Delhi, she became the professor of Medicine (in 1954).She also led the creation of north India’s first catheterisation lab in Lady Hardinge, a concept that was not even heard of at the time. Her extensive work in Cardiology led her to take over as the Director-Principal of Maulana Azad Medical College (MAMC) in 1967, where she established a Cardiology department–Later, she also set up a Cardiology department at GB Pant Hospital.
It was in 1981 that she left government service, and set up the much-renowned National Heart Institute in Delhi, to spread awareness about heart diseases.
Padmavati never let age become a hurdle in her journey to success. Until 2015, she was working 12 hours a day, five days a week.
The Padma Bhushan and Padma Vibhushan awardee breathed her last in August 2020, after she suffered a cardiac arrest. She was diagnosed with Coronavirus earlier that month, and was on ventilator support until the end. Her legacy is one that continues to inspire generations of Indian women.
(Edited by Athira Nair)