India’s First and Oldest cardiologist, Dr. S.I Padmavati dies at 103

A strong-willed woman, a pioneer in cardiology and a doctor with a heart of gold – this is how the medical fraternity remembers 103-year-old cardiologist Dr Padmavati Sivaramakrishna Iyer, known simply as Dr Padmavati, who passed away Saturday after contracting COVID-19 earlier this month.

Admitted to National Heart Institute (NHI) 11 days earlier where she developed pneumonia, she was put on ventilator support but suffered a cardiac arrest on Saturday.

Also being the founder director of NHI, she was also awarded the Prestigious Padma Bhushan in 1967 and the Padma Vibhushan in 1992. She was also the recipient of Harvard Medical International Award, Dr BC Roy Award and Kamla Menon Research Award.

She strings together numerous cardiologists to whom she been a teacher and a mentor. “Even till the last moment, she was very sharp and would put us to shame at times when we would not recount an incident but she would remember it. She was a health enthusiast and swam till the age of 93-94 years. She loved playing tennis, which she gave up some time ago. Her physical abilities were restricted over the last five years,” said Dr OP Yadava, Chief Cardiac Surgeon and Chief Executive Officer at NHI.

Born in 1971, Padmavati fled from Burma(now Myanmar) with her family to Coimbatore in 1941 during World War II. With the passion to make a difference, she studied medicine at Johns Hopkins Hospital and Harvard Medical College in the USA with cardiology pioneers Dr Helen Taussig and Dr Paul Dudley White, respectively.

Several firsts have been to her name:
  • The establishment of the first cardiac clinic and Cath lab at the Lady Hardinge Medical College, Delhi.
  • The initiation of India’s first Doctorate of Medicine in Cardiology.
  • Setting up cardiology departments at the prestigious Maulana Azad Medical College (where in 1971 she took over as Director-Principal), GB Pant Hospital, etc.
  • Founding the All India Heart Foundation, Delhi.

All this she accomplished in the era where it was unknown territory for most Indians let alone, for a woman. To this Dr Padmavati said, “I pursued cardiology because there were very few courses available to women when I went to college, unlike today.”

Having witnessed drastic changes in the incidence of heart disease in India over the last century, Dr. Padmavati said “Things were different earlier. Physical activity and a healthy diet were the norms. Now, times have changed.”