Rao pens 4 books reflecting on pediatric cardiology

By Darla Brown, Office of Communications
August 16, 2021

Dr. P. Syamasundar Rao and his pediatric cardiology book covers

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, P. Syamasundar Rao, MD, has written four books reflecting on pediatric cardiology. (Graphic by Omar Aguado/Office of Communications)

While many people have spent the downtime of the pandemic learning a new skill or reflecting on career paths, one McGovern Medical School faculty member took the time to focus on productivity –producing four books.

P. Syamasundar Rao, MD, professor of pediatrics and emeritus chief of pediatric surgery, wrote: “The Journey of an Indian American Pediatric Cardiologist – A Memoir – With Emphasis on Scientific Contributions to the Medical Literature,” published in 2020; “Pediatric Cardiology: How it Has Evolved Over the Last 50 Years,” published in 2020; “A Multidisciplinary Approach to Perinatal Cardiology Vol. 1,” published in 2021; and “A Multidisciplinary Approach to Perinatal Approach to Perinatal Cardiology Vol. 2” published in 2021.

“I have been working just part-time with the university since 2017, so I have free time on my hands. My heart attack in 2015 makes it difficult for me to go to sleep – so those are extra hours at night, when I can write,” he explained.

Thanks to a friend’s encouragement and an award, the memoir came to life.

“I have been encouraged by my friends and classmates to write a memoir listing my scientific accomplishments, particularly by my college and medical school classmate, Dr. Gopalrao Nemana, a retired cardiologist from Sacramento, California. But I did not want to undertake such a task, given my health and other academic commitments. Suddenly, Dr. K. C. Chaudhuri Foundation/Indian Journal of Pediatrics/All India Institute of Medical Sciences bestowed me the honor of Lifetime Achievement Award in 2017; the award required that I present an “Oration” outlining lifetime accomplishments at All India Institute of Medical Sciences, New Delhi in September 2017. The published oration rekindled the thought of memoir writing and formed an outline for this book,” he explained.

Rao, who was encouraged by his grandparents to become a doctor, was inspired to pursue pediatric cardiology by a visiting professor to the Andhra Medical College in Visakhapatnam, India, where he was a medical student.

“I was entertaining a career choice of either going into surgery or pediatrics. Suddenly, during house surgery, I was involved in the care of two cyanotic infants to whom only blow-by oxygen could be administered; unfortunately, both babies died. These infants turned out to have severe congenital heart defects, namely transposition of the great arteries and tricuspid atresia, respectively,” he recalled.

“These incidents prompted the thought that I should go to USA, get training to turn into a pediatric cardiologist and return to India to serve the people in India. This contemplation may probably have dwindled away, but for the fact that one of my professors, Dr. Laxhmana Rao, who just then returned after a sabbatical at Johns Hopkins University and invited Dr. Helen B. Taussig (considered the mother of pediatric cardiology) to come to our medical school as a visiting professor. Dr. Taussig reviewed the clinical, chest X-ray, electrocardiogram, and the blood work findings of each these children in detail and discussed each case with a focus on diagnosis and management. I was privileged to be present at these deliberations, which further strengthened my desire to become a pediatric cardiologist.”  

That was the start to a 45-year career in academic medicine. Prior to joining the McGovern Medical School faculty in 2002 as the director of the Division of Pediatric Cardiology, he served on the faculty of the Medical College of Georgia; the King Faisal Specialist Hospital & Research Center, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia; the University of Wisconsin, Madison; and St. Louis University in Missouri.

“This was the place I stayed the longest,” he said of McGovern. “From the beginning I was interested in academic medicine. If you want to do real pediatric cardiology, this is the place.”

A pioneer in interventional pediatric cardiology, his contributions span the decades: catheterization and angiography in the 1970s, balloon angioplasty/valvuloplasty in the 1980s, transcatheter catheter closure of cardiac defects in the 1990s, new pediatric cardiology/pediatric cardiovascular surgery program in the 2000s, and educational programs and teaching material for physicians in the 2010s. Published by Cambridge Scholars Publishing in June 2020, the retrospective, “Pediatric Cardiology: How it Has Evolved Over the Last 50 Years,” took two years to create and is a companion piece to his memoir.

“Cardiac defects that were once fatal in infancy are now treatable,” he said of the progress that has been made in the field. “Developments such as early detection of the neonates with serious heart disease and their rapid transport to tertiary care centers, availability of highly sensitive noninvasive diagnostic tools, advances in neonatal care and anesthesia, progress in trans-catheter interventional procedures and extension of complicated surgical procedures to the neonate and infant have advanced to such a degree that almost all congenital cardiac defects can be diagnosed and ‘corrected.’”

As a result of this book, Rao was approached to work on a two-volume publication. He co-edited “A Multidisciplinary Approach to Perinatal Cardiology Vol. 1 and 2” with Dharmapuri Vidyasagar, MD, PhD, professor emeritus in pediatrics at the University of Illinois, Chicago. Published by Cambridge Scholars, the volumes present an up-to-date overview of pediatric cardiology, evidence-based therapeutics, and a multi-disciplinary approach to manage neonatal and congenital cardiac issues.

“I believe my most important contribution has been in interventional pediatric cardiology. Most of our patients require open heart surgery, and one of the things I have done is to try to determine how to treat these children without surgery,” he said.

Since the pandemic, Rao been working his part-time 2.5 days from home, using the available technologies. With his upcoming 80th birthday in September, he said he may cut his schedule down to just 2 days a week.

“I enjoy the work,” he said.