Dr. Sambamurthy Subramanian fixed broken hearts but he wasn’t a relationship counselor or the Handy Man in a golden oldie pop song.
Rather, Subramanian was a cardiologist, the former chief of cardiovascular surgery at Miami Children’s Hospital (now Nicklaus) for nearly 20 years.
But some families dubbed Subramanian, who was born in India on Sept. 8, 1933 and died at 81 on July 17, “Dr. Superman” or “Miracle Doctor” for his deft touch.
Or, as one 5-year-old patient at Miami Children’s simply said so many years ago: “He fixed my heart.”
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How Subramanian fixed hearts helped make him legendary in his field.
In 1969, while at Buffalo Children’s Hospital, where he started its pediatric cardiac surgery program, Subramanian and an Israeli colleague, Dr. Bernardo Vidne, developed a technique for lowering an infant’s temperature in a hypothermic chamber. The procedure made delicate surgery easier by putting infants into a form of suspended animation. The reduced blood flow allowed doctors to work in a bloodless area during open heart surgery, particularly beneficial given that babies have much lower blood volume to spare.
In the ’80s, amid fears of contracting AIDS through blood transfusions, families from around the world — including Puerto Rico, Poland, Greece, Italy and his native India — sought after Subramanian in Miami for his technique.
He arrived at Miami Children’s in Febuary 1987 and created its international heart program, which drew heavily from South Florida and the Caribbean. He also established the Dubon Chair in cardiovascular surgery.
Subramanian, who most recently lived in Homestead, always felt the burgeoning population in Miami made it a prime location for such a heart center. “There is a young population growing every day,” he said in a 1986 Miami Herald story. “Heart problems occur in 1 percent of newborns so we’re talking about a very substantial number of newborns.”
On Friday, Dr. Deise Granado-Villar, chief medical officer at Nicklaus said: “Dr. Subramanian was a pioneer cardiac surgeon who launched Nicklaus Children’s Hospital on its journey toward the development of the state-of-the-art pediatric and adult congenital heart program we have today.”
Subramanian, who earned his medical degree in 1955 from the GS Medical College at the University of Mumbai, operated on an average of two to three children a day over his career, his daughter Saskia Subramanian said.
Doing the math, this would mean thousands of children were treated during Subramanian’s 18-year tenure at Miami Children’s. Previously, starting in 1967, he spent 20 years as chief of cardiovascular surgery at Buffalo Children’s Hospital and professor of surgery at the University of Buffalo.
The art of medicine was his driving force.
“He felt very strongly that medical care should be available to those in need, and throughout his career both waived his fees for anyone in need and traveled to countries around the world to perform free heart surgery for those who couldn’t travel to the U.S. Years ahead of the notion of universal health care, he just quietly provided it in his field to those who sought his services,” Saskia Subramanian said.
He also championed education for up-and-comers by creating a fellowship program from Miami.
“He adored mentoring young physicians from around the world,” his daughter said. “My house, while growing up, was like a mini UN, with at any time four to eight young doctors from Japan, India, Europe, South America, Israel, and many more countries coming for informal dinners at the drop of a hat. It was a vibrant, happy community of like-minded docs who wanted to care for a very high-risk patient population who had little hope otherwise. Heady stuff.”
After retirement from medicine in 1995, Subramanian earned a law degree and master’s in business administration from the University of Miami.
In addition to his daughter, Subramanian is survived by his wife Donna, brothers S. Thyagarajan, S. Nagarajan, S. Sriram, his sister Mahalakshmi Viswanathan and two grandsons. Services were private. Donations can be made to one of the dog rescue foundations he supported: chainoflovedogs.org, shepherdhelp.org or buddiesthrubullies.org.
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