Cardiologist called a Dayton icon: ‘Just being around him made you a better person’

Dr. Mukul Chandra remembered around the world after dying from COVID-19 complications.

Since Dr. Mukul Chandra was first diagnosed with COVID-19 in March, and still a month after his death, his family has heard from people near and far about how the well-known Dayton cardiologist impacted their lives.

“There hasn’t been a day in the last seven plus months where I have not picked up the phone and found a connection to my husband. I did not even know they knew my husband,” his wife, Dr. Arti Chandra said.

The doctor was in the prime of his life — a father, husband, marathon runner, mentor and physician to hundreds —when he became one of the first people in the region with a known case of the novel coronavirus.

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During his initial illness in March, the urgent search for a convalescent plasma match garnered international attention. He never recovered after eight weeks in the ICU, when his lungs had irreversible damage. He died accompanied by family Oct. 18.

His son Shubham Chandra said he wouldn’t wish the experience his father went through in the hospital on anyone. It made all the difference that his father was cared for by providers who treated him as a person, and for the support people gave for his family throughout, he said.

“The staff at the Valley, Cleveland Clinic and then the long-term acute care center where he went afterwards were all methodical and compassionate for treating my father as not only one of their own, but treat him as person. The staff gave incredible amounts of respect and care,” Shubham Chandra said.

Following the outpouring of support since the spring from friends and strangers alike, those who knew him spoke with the Dayton Daily News to share the story beyond his illness and about his love of medicine and community.

Passionate about his work

Chandra worked at Miami Valley Hospital and was medical director of preventive cardiology and rehabilitation and vice chair of the cardiovascular service line.

In his position, Chandra left an impact - literally - on hundreds of patients’ hearts around the region. He left young physicians newly enthused about the field.

Chandra’s career took him across three continents: after graduating from MS University of Baroda in India, he continued his training in India, Israel and the U.S. At first on track to train as a cardiac surgeon, Chandra decided to retrain as a cardiologist.

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He went alone for a job in Israel, in an area far from where you might find a tourist, and after a few weeks he called his father for advice on whether he was doing the right thing, as Desert Storm and the Gulf War became more likely, who advised the young Chandra to give it his best shot if he felt it was the right route and he could keep himself safe.

“That’s kind of the blessing my father told me and my sister (Aayushi). If you’re passionate about something, if you believe it’s right, you have to give it your 100%. Even if other people are saying it’s not the traditional option, it’s not the ideal option, or doesn’t fit the linear track,” Shubham Chandra said. “And I think that’s something he always encouraged.”

Dayton becomes home

Dr. Arti Chandra said Dayton was the longest she and her husband ever stayed in one place. She said the community became home to the family and home to his passion for cardiology.

“I won’t say career, I would say passion for him. He was passionate about cardiology like no one else I have ever seen," she said.

Dr. Arti Chandra said he would encourage medical students with their interest.

“If he found that spark of curiosity, and a love for learning in anyone, he would take it upon himself to spend the time and effort to enhance that experience. It did not matter if it was 2 a.m. in the morning,” she said.

He got an opportunity to start the cardiology fellowship program at Miami Valley Hospital.

“I think this was one of the major highlights of his career,” Dr. Arti Chandra said. “Some of those fellows have actually kept up with us as part of our network as we cared for him during the hospital months.”

Giving to others

Dr. Steven Jain, his close friend and colleague, said Chandra had the rare quality of someone who went into private practice in the community but still kept up his passion for the academic side of medicine.

“And that’s extremely unusual in our practice and in any practice really across the country where you find somebody who is really not only a great caring bedside physician, but also has an academic perspective,” Jain said.

Jain said Chandra was known for having clinics much larger than other’s typical volume of patients. He was both a capable physician, worked to be available, and easy to talk to, Jain said, and those traits “magnified over thousands and thousands of patients leads to that kind of reputation.”

“I wouldn’t hesitate to call him a Dayton icon and a huge loss for Dayton because he gave his life to our cardiology practice, to Miami Valley, but to a much bigger degree, he gave his life to Dayton,” Jain said.

Response from around the country

Miami Valley Association of Physicians of Indian Origin helped find Dr. Chandra a plasma donor early in the pandemic when few people had COVID-19 antibodies, putting out a call on social media that prompted thousands of phone calls.

“We had an overwhelming response throughout the country,” said Dr. Jhansi Koduri, president of MVAPI, who said a donor was found in 48 hours.

Koduri he is a good colleague who she was able to spend more time with him after he was sick and learned from him, where he would ask questions and want you to find answers.

"Just being around him makes you a better person. His courage and endurance was very inspiring,” Koduri said.

The family has heard from physicians from near and far who credit Chandra with helping start their careers. Someone Shubham Chandra knew from grade school reached out when she heard of his father’s illness and said she remembered him stopping by with a heart model for career day and that prompted her to want to go into medicine.

“Fast forward and she’s in med school. And she said ‘that’s the first moment I thought I wanted to be a doctor,’” Shubham Chandra said.

Shubham Chandra said his father’s colleagues, when he originally got sick, took the helm in helping coordinate his care.

“We were dealing with what was a really deadly and, quite frankly, an unknown in the medical community. and they took it upon themselves to become experts almost overnight, and helping my father get the care, passing that on to Miami Valley, and the Cleveland Clinic helping coordinate the care there."

The family has heard from people in Chicago, in Poland and in Israel. People helped with meals, with the lawn, checked in to see what they needed and wrote messages of support and of the impact Chandra had on their life.

“I’m truly humbled by this community that we live in. We came here as a small family but ended with a much larger one,” Dr. Arti Chandra said. “This community rose up to the challenge to provide care and support to my husband but also to us, in ways small and large. We are, and forever will be, deeply grateful.”

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