In this interview series where we ask questions to people who are making a difference, it can be big, it can be small, it doesn’t matter, what matters is their contribution to our society. It can be anyone from any walk of life and from any country. Please, do send us suggestions of people whom you think we should interview for this series.
Atul Laddu is a retired physician-researcher. He has immense experience in conducting research and has extensively written for scientific journals. His mission & passion is to give back to the community. He donates all his time to Georgia Thrombosis Forum where he mentors young children.
- Tell us something about yourself?
I am Atul Laddu, a retired physician / researcher. My wife, Jayashree and I have been living in the U.S. since 1968
- How did you got interested into the medical field?
My mentor in India was a primary care physician, Dr. V. K. Ketkar (I do not know what his initials stood for). Dr. Ketkar was fondly called Appasaheb by everyone. Dr. Ketkar was one of the most caring individuals I have seen, his diagnosis was very accurate, and he treated the patients very gently. He had a sense of humor also. My parents and brothers always went to Appasaheb for any medical treatment. It was here, at about age 10, when the idea of becoming a physician came to me.
Once I decided to become a physician (age 10), I never wanted to be anyone else.
- Tell us about some of the struggles you and your family faced when you came as an immigrant to US?
After I graduated (MD) at the age of 22, I wanted to pursue a career in research and teaching, and hence I accepted a job of a demonstrator in Pharmacology at Maulana Azad Medical College, New Delhi. I used to teach Pharmacology and also conducted research towards my PhD thesis. During my career towards PhD, I had to work very hard by working with a very bright, hard working, but biased professor. The professor was not always very helpful to me, and I had to work extra hard than my colleagues to make progress. I even lost 1 year since he would not allow me to register for PhD for no given reason.
After I completed MD and PhD, I decided to go to the U.S. for further experience. I came to the U.S. with $7 in my pocket (this was the amount of foreign exchange allowed by the Indian Government in 1968). When I landed at the JF Kennedy airport in the U.S., everything was different from India. The language was English, but I had to make an extra effort to understand the accents. The people I spoke also did not quite understand my typical Indian accent.
Since my family and I did not have enough money to pay for the air travel for Jayashree and Prashanta (our son), I came first, thinking that I would save enough money for their air travel. I thus stayed away from Jayashree and Prashanta for almost 9 months, this was one of the most difficult times of my life.
I started my fellowship in Milwaukee on a salary of $5500 per year in April 1968. To have 3 people on this salary was very difficult. We used to be careful even with one penny. We did not have car, and in extremely cold temperatures of Milwaukee (sometimes 20 below zero), three 3 of us had to walk to grocery store, since we could not afford a babysitter for Prashanta. The house we could rent was a very old house, almost needing a demolition, since we could not afford anything better.
The work place was very good, and everyone was helpful. Somehow, the community we were in, there was a significant discrimination, in that the families associated with the status, annual income, type of car and the size of the house they owned. We of course were at the very low end of income and had no house and no car. Despite this, we were able to find some families to associate with, and we had a good life.
Our aim was to be happy, despite the odds we were facing. Being an ardent Raj Kapoor fan, we followed the message from the Raj Kapoor Song, “Woh Subhah Kabhi to Aayegi”, and looked for a better tomorrow!
One of the challenges I faced was to write. Being in research, I had to perform experiments and write grants and articles that resulted from the research. My experience in these activities was not adequate, and hence I was struggling for a few years. After some time, I learnt the technique of planning, managing, writing and presentations. To date, I have about 200 articles written in peer-reviewed journals, and I have been a reviewer for several major International journals.
- What’s your philosophy towards life and profession?
I have a simple philosophy in life and profession. Always smile and help those who are in need, and never give up. In 1970, Jayashree wanted to have Makar Sankranti at our house. It was January 14, one of the coldest days in Milwaukee, with temperature of 15 below zero. By this time, we had acquired an old beaten up car that we could afford. Cars from none of the 8 families Jayashree had invited could start, ours was the only one that started. I remember that I gave ride to all the 8 families and we had a blast at the event. The good thing was that I had a sight seeing tour of Milwaukee, since the families lived in different areas that I had never been before!
Later on, when we improved our financial status, we were able to buy our own house. Jayashree and I would never let us forget what we went through and went out of our way to work with those families who did not have adequate means.
We started a lot of ventures in our life. We stared an event called “weekend retreat”. The purpose was to invited a few newly-wed couples to spend a week end at our house. Jayashree and I cooked breakfast, lunch and dinner for these families. The idea behind this venture was to make the newly married young girls feel at home, so that they will not miss their “Maike”.
Since we had gained a reasonable experience in buying houses, we started helping young couples in in all aspects of buying houses-selection of a realtor, a site, a builder, mortgage company, inspection of the house, review of the contract, and closing on the house.
When our ages came in the category that we were now grandparents, we created an event called Breakfast with grandparents. We invited about 15 young children and took them to a breakfast palace of their choice (somehow, the choice of the kids was always I-HOP) and let them have a great time.
Being in a medical profession, people always came to seek advice for medical help. I never refused to help others if I could help them, irrespective of time I had to spend. If I could help, I will help. Being a physician from India, and having a research degree, I had developed a lot of technics to manage patients, and I used them very freely in the U.S.
- What motivated you to research into Thrombosis?
Let us flash back to May 2011. Our grandson was 14 years old at that time, and was going to undergo a surgery for back. The surgery lasted about 8 hours, and he was brought to his bed in the hospital. The next day about 1100 h, he started complaining excruciating pain in his chest and could not breathe. Our son, a cardiologist, immediately told me, Dad, he is a case of PE (Pulmonary Embolism)”. He had 2 massive blood clots in both of his lungs. Our grandson was treated immediately, and everything was OK. Until a second time, when in November 2011, he suffered from PE in both of his lungs again. He was treated successfully again, and he is doing fine.
September 2011, Jayashree and I were in Boston to attend the National conference of North American Thrombosis Forum (NATF, www.natfonline.org). Dr. Jawed Fareed, Professor of Pharmacology and Hematology and Director of the World-famous Thrombosis-Hemostasis lab at Loyola, whom I had known for several years, was attending the conference. Dr. Fareed asked me if I would consider starting something similar to NATF in the Atlanta area, so that we could help the citizens in the Atlanta area.
This is how I started Georgia Thrombosis forum (GTF, www.gtfonline.net) in 2012. The primary mission of GTF was to save precious lives through spread of awareness of thrombosis in the communities. We have been going from one community to other, one city to other, and from one county to other getting proclamations from the government bodies, holding booths, and giving talks to the communities.
I was convinced that research is the back bone of medicine. Being a person with research in mind, I wanted to add the flavor of research to our activities. In 2013, I offered to conduct research on various aspects of thrombosis to some of our young volunteers. The reception of this idea was so positive, that soon we started climbing on the ladder of research and started taking more and more complex research projects, all pertaining to thrombosis.
I negotiated research internships with the authorities at Brigham and Women’s (Harvard), Loyola, NATF, and University of North Georgia, and based on the likes, qualifications of our young volunteers, started placing students in various institutions.
I am glad to report that to date, we have completed about 20 high levee research projects and have transformed all of them in publications. Through these research projects, we have just started seeing “the light through the tunnel”. Rarely will you see high school students who have conducted high level research, written and published articles. I am proud to say that the GTF kids are very unique, they have done all of this.
- What’s that state of research around the world on this subject?
You asked a question, which is very close to the GTF alley of thinking. A few of our young volunteers in 2016 decided to research on this topic. They selected the following countries: Australia, Belgium, Canada, Germany, India and UK. To our surprise, thrombosis is not very well known in most of the countries. Awareness of thrombosis is also not wide-spread. Almost all the nations observe The world Thrombosis Day on October 13 each year. This is a good news. The bad news is that we do not see enough efforts on research in thrombosis outside the U.S. Through our own research, we have found that India trails behind in almost every area, and yet the incidence of thrombosis is very high in India. This is pity that our motherland is losing countless number of people suffering from thrombosis.
It is our intention to spread the news about thrombosis to India through journals like yours.
- Do you think giving antibiotics and medications for every small ailment decreases body resistance and how can people increase their disease fighting capability?
I respectfully submit to you that this question is a bit difficult to answer. Getting flu will reduce the body resistance, but only temporarily. Since getting flu is not in anyone’s hand, thus question is difficult to answer. Vaccines are not given for every small ailment, they are given to protect from some specific conditions. The vaccines thus will not decrease the body resistance.
- What are your aims for the future?
My aims in the future is to continue our mission in life: help those who need help, continue to develop the youth, since it is the youth which is the future of our generation.
- What are some of the areas in your opinion where medicine needs most improvement in?
This is a very board are. But, the following areas have an unmet need for an effective and a safe drug: Cancer, Certain types of pain, Cholesterol reducing medications, Diabetes, and Thrombosis.
- Wat are your thoughts as a doctor on making healthcare and clinical aid more affordable to underprivileged?
What I am going to suggest may not be liked by my fellow physicians, but I will say it anyway since you asked the question:
Can all of us be a bit more generous and look at the patients who are unable to make the 2 ends meet more carefully and try to help them by not charging or reducing the amount for the doctor’s visits? Let us open the doors to the community and make the healthcare more affordable, and make them feel that they are wanted in the community.
- Your message for our readers?
My message to the readers is live, and let others live, by doing everything under your power.