By AMERICAN HEART ASSOCIATION NEWS
In the late 1950s, Dr. Saktipada Mookherjee was the only physician serving 5,000 miners working in the jungles of his native India.
It’s a long way from Syracuse, New York – where over five decades later he now leads a medical dynasty of sorts. He’s now a famed cardiologist in the area, and all three of his children have followed his footsteps into the medical field.
His daughters, Disha Mookherjee and Sulagna Mookherjee, are also cardiologists. His son, Swagatam Mookherjee, is a third-year internal medicine resident at the State University of New York Upstate Medical University in Syracuse.
What’s it like in a family full of doctors? The Mookherjees gave a little insight on a recent afternoon, sharing stories and praising one another in both Bengali and English. The Indian word for father, “Baba,” came as often as the English “Dad” and “Daddy” that the Mookherjee children use.
For the Mookherjee kids, training started early, when their father worked at the Syracuse VA Medical Center. He was there for 34 years, the past 18 of them as Chief of Cardiology. After voluntarily retiring from the VA Healthcare System, he continues to work as a professor of medicine in the Division of Cardiology at the State University of New York Upstate Medical University in Syracuse.
“When I was 5, I would go with Dad to the VA Hospital, and go on rounds with him,” said Disha Mookherjee, director and founder of The Women’s Heart Clinic at St. Luke’s Hospital in Duluth, Minn., where she is also a staff cardiologist. “I’d hang out with the nurses and meet the vets.”
Sulagna (Suzie) Mookherjee, who’s now a cardiologist Albany Medical College in Albany, New York, recalls her dad’s professional influence very early – during her fourth-grade science fair.
“My project was about the heart, and Dad brought me home a bull’s heart,” Suzie, president of the Capital Region Advisory Board of the American Heart Association, said. “I won first prize.”
“Medicine was always there,” added his son Swagatam. “There was always a lot of medical talk growing up.”
It’s not much different today, especially when the conversation turns to the topic of cardiology.
“During my career, cardiology really came into the modern age,” Saktipada said. “When I started practicing, there was digitalis and one diuretic. Now, there are hundreds of medications, and techniques like bypass, heart/lung operations, angiographies, echoes, imaging – it’s wonderful.”
Bring up the topic of women and heart disease, and the family goes into overdrive.
Suzie and Disha are passionate advocates for women’s heart health, and are regular and prominent spokespeople for the American Heart Association’s awareness movement Go Red For Women.
“We need to be providing more lifestyle guidance, and women are more confident seeing female healthcare providers,” Disha said.
“We need to keep raising awareness,” Suzie said. “Why don’t we do self-heart exams, for instance?”
Saktipada’s interest in medicine started early, watching his grandfather – a homeopathic doctor in India – often treat patients free of charge. His mother also was an influence, with her interest in the role of food in health.
After earning his medical degree in India, in 1956, Saktipada won a scholarship to study in Leipzig, Germany, where he defended his thesis fully in German. He went on to London to study medicine, and became the only non-British cardiologist at the London Chest Hospital.
After almost two years, his mentor suggested he go to the New World to further his career.
Saktipada became a research and teaching fellow in cardiology at the Memorial University in St. John’s, Newfoundland – a big change from bustling London. By 1969, he had married his wife, Jyotsna, and 14 months later they settled in Syracuse.
“I first went to Syracuse on a balmy day in August and thought it would be beautiful,” said Saktipada, unaware that snow would be a big part of his life for decades to come.
Shivers and snow shovels aside, he began building the family’s medical reputation in Syracuse.
“There’s a teaching award named after Dad at Upstate, and a best heart teacher award,” Disha said. “He’s got a button for patient satisfaction that he loves.”
“He has also published a book in Bengali, also translated into Hindi, about heart disease in the South Asian population,” Suzie said.
The children clearly value their mother’s work, too.
“Our mother was a steady support as we pursued our dreams of becoming cardiologists,” Suzie said.
Jyotsna has enjoyed the house full of medical talk over the years – especially watching the children grow under their father’s tutelage.
“I know that he loves it,” she said.
“It’s wonderful and emotional to see my children doing what they do,” said Saktipada, who’s always happy to be on hand for a second opinion.
“When they ask for my opinion, it feels great.”