Story by: Vinay Puri, M.D. on November 7, 2016
I have been in Louisville for 21 years as a child neurologist. I ended up in Louisville because Dr. Sole, who was also a child neurologist, was two years my senior at St. Louis Children’s and came here to practice. During my last year I can remember going to our administrative department in St. Louis and having a conversation like, “I need to figure out what I’m doing, where I’m going.” Two hours later I got a call from Dr. Sole, who thought I should come and take a look at the program here and thought it would be a good fit for me. I interviewed and everything fell into place.
I have realized that I am a very loyal person and I don’t jump from place to place usually. Louisville and this hospital offered me the most incredible span of patients. I love the nurses and the other medical staff that I work with. I was given the opportunity to teach and I had everything at my disposal that I really wanted.
When I first started, it was myself and Dr. Sole until he had to go on medical leave and then it was just me. I have always been quite secure about myself and about what I do. I didn’t miss a beat and just took it and ran with it. To be honest, for the longest time I was too busy to even complain! I realize in retrospect that might have been a problem. In 2001 I finally realized, I might need some help.
Now we are a department of 11. It has really helped my mindset. It has helped me be more patient and more relaxed. I’m able to enjoy my work even more and take on more of the type of work that I want to do. It’s been fabulous. However, I don’t have any intention of being less busy. Maybe just busy, but on my own terms. I definitely want to lead my group by example. When you have young folks coming in, you have to lead by example. So I don’t have any intentions of slowing down.
On meeting his wife
My wife is from Louisville and that is the other big factor for me staying here. When I went to get my green card, my attorney told me that I must thank Beth Gidemon at the senator’s office because she was instrumental in making this process happen. She had been assigned to my case randomly to take care of all the paperwork.
So I went to the office and on the way out I went to thank her and met her for the first time. I went back to my office and thought, “You know, I think I might want to marry that person.” And so I called her after a couple of days. I asked her if she was single. Single and available? Is she married? Shortly sometime after that we went on our first date. Three years later we were married. When I look at it, it was just meant to be. I was meant to be in Louisville and I have never ever regretted my decision. I have been very honored to be here, and my relationships and fondness for this place has only grown exponentially with time.
Teaching the real meaning of medicine
I think my students see I genuinely care about what I do and that I care about my patients. I know I carry that same fondness to teaching and getting to know our residents personally. I ask a lot of questions. It’s the best way to get them engaged. I also give a lot of anecdotes. These days I can almost give a story for every patient we see, as I can harken back to a patient that I saw 20-some years ago and tell them about it.
I always focus each teaching moment with the things [the students] are learning from the patient but also from them as a person, including interacting with the family and how to handle tough situations that we sometimes have to go through with families. I think a core principle is the compassion for our patients and what I believe in. I always tell them that you really have to put yourself in the shoes of the patient and remember if these were your children how you would want to be treated as their parents. If you were the parent how would you want to be spoken to? Everything else we do happens after that, but compassion has to be the centerpiece of caring for patients.
So many patients, so many places
I am always amazed at how many patients I have had over the years. About 95 percent of the time when I am out I will run into a past patient. About 75 percent of the time I will remember their names, but the other 25 percent I will remember their faces.
The most shocking time was three years back. I flew to India. We went to New Delhi first and then to a beautiful city where I was born at the foothills of the Himalayas called Chandigarh. We went to a very big mall the first day I was there for dinner. I bumped into a patient! They were a family from Louisville that were missionaries and they were doing a mission trip in southeast Asia and had come to India for a few days. I was riding the escalator up and they were riding down. They looked at me and I looked at them — everyone was shocked. This was the first day I had reached India. I was 9,000 miles away from Louisville and I see one of my patients the first day I got there. It was unbelievable.
On family and living with no regrets
I think my younger daughter will go into medicine, but I think the older will do something else. I think my older daughter might be jaded that she has seen me work exceedingly long hours. But I always tell them not all doctors have to work like that. I have always believed in living my life day to day. My vision and goal has always been to be the best person I can, to be the best doctor I can and everything else that has come to me has been a byproduct of that. It has been my formula and has worked out great, so I think I am just going to stick to it and let everything else fall into place. I wish when I was busier earlier in my career that I had an opportunity to spend more time with my patients. Other than that, no regrets.
I am most proud of the fact that I have maintained a long relationship with Kentucky and this children’s hospital. I am most proud of the relationships I have built with some of my patients. Some of them I have been caring for more than 21 years. Some are parents now and I have even taken care of some of their children.
I am also proud of the relationships that I have with people here at the hospital, my colleagues and the loyalty I have toward them and they have toward me. I am also very proud of my children, two teenage girls who are growing up to be really considerate and decent people. They keep me very grounded. Especially my youngest, she keeps me very very grounded.