Pakistani, Indian doctors given W.Va. award
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Two successful doctors, originally from other parts of the world, have been recognized for their contributions to their adopted home: West Virginia.
Dr. Kishore Challa of India and Dr. Mohammad Yousef of Pakistan met in West Virginia more than 20 years ago. Their friendship blossomed at South Charleston Cardiology, where they continue to practice.
Challa, 54, came to the United States in 1982 and completed his medical residency and cardiology fellowship in New York.
"I've been in Charleston since 1989. I had a good opportunity. I was going around for interviews. This was my first and last stop. I didn't go anywhere else," Challa said.
Yousef, 55, was in Baltimore before completing his cardiology fellowship at Marshall.
"During the fellowship, I was assigned rotations here for almost nine months to a year. I never left since. I joined Dr. Challa, who was here a year or two ahead of me. And I've enjoyed every moment since then," Yousef said.
They both recently received Distinguished West Virginian awards from the governor. The award was created to honor those who have contributed significantly to West Virginia or West Virginians and have brought positive attention to the state. Yousef was additionally honored with the Heart of Gold from the American Heart Association.
"That shows you how similar we are and how we work together; both of us received it at the same time. Our work ethic, everything is almost identical," Challa said.
The duo joked that Indian-Pakistani friendships are uncommon but said the close bond they developed contributed to their success.
"Our language is the same, our interests are the same, our dress is the same, jewelry is the same, food is the same," Yousef said.
"Not only just both of us, but even his wife and my wife are the best of friends," Challa said. "We really work so much together, and our kids also, we have the same kind of attitude, personality. We even went to Washington to see a Bollywood dance not too long ago, the four of us."
"Our professional relationship is really remarkable," Yousef said. "We have a very identical way of practicing, and you don't find that very often. The way he thinks, I think. The way he does his work is the way I do my work. It's really a gift between two partners."
That closeness may stem from a common passion for cardiology.
"I was interested in cardiology from day one of medical school. You get instant gratification from somebody who basically comes in dead to the hospital, and you save their life," Challa said.
Yousef agreed. "When I was in high school, I went with my dad to a cardiologist in Pakistan. I was so impressed with the way he treated my dad that from there on, it was only one interest: a physician and a cardiologist. Since then, everything fell in place. Born again, I'll still be a cardiologist."
Doctors have about 90 minutes from the second a patient walks through the door of the emergency room until the end of the surgery to ensure the least amount of damage to the heart, they said. The four cardiologists at Thomas Memorial Hospital averaged 57 minutes per surgery last quarter.
"We take care of patients from a janitor to high-level government executives to quarterbacks to people working in the hospital," Challa said.
"My father gave me one piece of advice when I graduated medical school: 'Take care of your patients as if you're taking care of me, and you can't go wrong.' "
Yousef noted that doctors don't work alone.
"A lot of thanks goes to the support staff, the nursing staff. They help make it happen. Without them, we can't do anything," he said.
The two are beloved by their patients, as evidenced by some of the distances they travel. Challa has one patient who comes from Georgia.
"When I saw him first, he was driving on the interstate. He had a heart attack. That's an exception — 99 percent are from this area; he still sends me a birthday card every year," Challa said.
Another patient who had a heart attack on a Sunday was sent home Tuesday after recovering from his surgery, Yousef said.
"He almost died there. They had to zap him. He arrested on the table. Zapped him again, and now he's doing well. That's the personal satisfaction you get."
Challa mentioned another source of that.
"I guess the clearest example of what we are doing right is my son is going to become a cardiologist," Challa said. "He's starting his cardiology fellowship in a couple months. This field — helping people — it's instant gratification. It's all worth it."