Widely regarded as the doyenne of cardiology in India, Dr. Sivaramakrishna Iyer Padmavati established its first cardiology clinic and catheter lab, the first Indian medical school-based cardiology department, and India’s first heart foundation. In 1981, she served as the founding director of the National Heart Institute in Delhi, the premier research and referral tertiary care heart hospital of the All India Heart Foundation, instrumental in training physicians in preventive cardiology.
Born in 1917 in Burma (now Myanmar), Padmavati excelled in school, earning the first medical degree at Rangoon University awarded to a female student. Soon after completing her studies, Japan invaded Burma in 1942. Padmavati and the other women in her family fled the country, taking the last flight to India. She was eventually reunited with her father and brothers when World War II ended.
In 1949, Dr. Padmavati moved to London as a fellow with the Royal College of Physicians in London and the Royal College of Physicians in Edinburgh. Pursuing interests in cardiology, she also studied in Sweden before receiving a 1949 fellowship with the Johns Hopkins University department of Pediatrics. In Baltimore, Dr. Padmavati trained under Dr. Helen Taussig, who pioneered the first surgeries on “blue babies,” or babies born with congenital heart defects. In 1952, she joined Harvard Medical School under Dr. Paul Dudley White, a pioneer of modern cardiology. In 1953, Dr. Padmavati returned to India, paving the path of cardiovascular medicine for generations.
Beginning as a lecturer at Delhi’s all-women’s Lady Hardinge Medical College, Dr. Padmavati was quickly promoted to professor of medicine. Soon male physicians sought out work in her cardiac catheterization lab, developed with a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation. For decades Dr. Padmavati conducted clinical investigations, publishing over 300 research articles on preventive cardiovascular medicine. An active proponent of government intervention in the regulation of cardiovascular disease risk factors, she advocated for eliminating lifestyle-based risk factors, such as fast food and cigarettes.
Leading the International Society of Cardiology, Dr. Padmavati was pivotal to the 1966 formation of the Council in Epidemiology at the World Congress in Delhi. She is an elected fellow of the National Academy of Medical Sciences, and was awarded the Padma Bhushan and the Padma Vibhushan, the highest civilian honors granted by the Indian government. At 96, Dr. Padmavati remains active, swimming every summer day or taking long walks during the Delhi winter.