How and why did you become a pediatric cardiologist?
I originally wanted to be a neonatologist and moved to the UK to further my training.
One day, I got to observe a cardiac assessment for a baby, where, for the first time, I saw an echocardiogram being done. I was fascinated by the cardiac structures as they moved and I could see the defects firsthand. With an interest in mechanics, I easily understood the cardiac pump and its dynamics. It appealed to me a lot that pediatric cardiologists could assess a baby’s heart condition and offer parents different options. I decided I would pursue the field.
Where did you grow up? Tell us about your childhood and home life.
I grew up in Masur, a small city in the southern state of Karnataka in India.
There were 33 people in my joint family and everyone had to do their share of work.
Even in primary school, I helped the family to earn a living by working in our grocery store. This meant no playtime or fun time. I would open the store in the morning and spend a few hours selling provisions, and then go to school, and come back in the evening to do the same thing until the store closed.
We ate our meals with all our family members. It was mostly our grandparents who looked after us, as Mom and our aunts cooked all day. At night, we would sleep next to my grandmother, who used to tell us fun stories until we fell asleep.
Who influenced you to go into medicine and where did you study?
My sister supported me and taught me how to be disciplined and to respect my elders. I had an aunt who encouraged me to study. She always told me, “The only way to be successful is to study hard.” She really pushed me very hard to go to university in Dharwad.
Other family members were less supportive. One of my uncles really discouraged me from going for higher studies.
In the end, with my grandfather and father’s support, I left home and went to university in Dharwad. It was a big financial burden for my family, but it changed my life.
I got very high marks at university, and I wanted to become an engineer, but my grandfather encouraged me to go into medicine.
I did my medical degree at the University of Mysore. During an internship, I was inspired by the pediatric rotation and eventually obtained a child health diploma from the same university.
What led you to Vancouver?
After training at some prestigious British hospitals, including Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children, Guy’s Hospital, and Southampton General Hospital, I applied for a fellowship in pediatric cardiology at BC Children’s Hospital. Dr. George Sandor called and told me he was willing to train me as a senior fellow, and that’s how I came to Vancouver.
Do you have a mentor?
When I was training in the UK, I had good senior colleagues, but I did not have any mentors. At BC Children’s Hospital, I found a true one in Dr. Sandor.
After arriving in Canada, I realized I needed to take a pediatric cardiology exam required by the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada. It was a difficult process to sort, but Dr. Sandor helped me. After a hectic year of processing paperwork and an evaluation of my training in the UK, I took the exam. Dr. Sandor trained me and really encouraged me to do research. In one year, I produced four papers.
I am fortunate to still see Dr. Sandor at BCCH. He comes in to do research every week even in his retirement.
What do you like about working at BCCH?
After my fellowship at BCCH, we moved to Saskatoon for a job opportunity. We liked it there, and I found a wonderful mentor and colleague in Dr. Tyrrell. It was a small place, and it helped us to raise our children there.
Our daughter moved to Vancouver for school, and our son is also keen to move here soon. We always wanted to come back to beautiful Vancouver.
I reached out to Dr. Sanatani a few years ago when they were looking for someone who was experienced in the field, and that is how we returned.
My colleagues at the newly built BCCH work in intensive care and across many subspecialties in pediatrics and pediatric cardiology care. It has been wonderful, and I am very proud to be part of this team.
Tell us about any specialties you have within cardiology. Are you doing any research?
I am interested in fetal cardiac assessment. I’m working on fetal cardiology research with my colleague Dr. Moodley, as well as Dr. Sandor, who has already contributed significantly to the field.
Outside work, what do you like to do for fun? What are you good at besides being a cardiologist?
I am patient and a good listener. I like technology a lot and want to integrate it into patient care to make it easier for families looking after a child born with very complex congenital cardiac defects.
Tell us about your family and what you like to do when you aren’t working.
My wife and I have three children. My eldest son is 26 years old and does accounting, my daughter is 24 and is just starting her residency at the University of Saskatchewan, and the youngest is 19 and currently at Simon Fraser University. I like jogging and walking our dog, Toffee, as well as watching sci-fi thriller movies and reading romantic novels and spy thrillers. ♥
“Meet the Cardiologist: Dr. Ashok Kakadekar” is from our Summer 2018 newsletter, Heart Matters. See our Newsletters page for more stories and to subscribe.