Dr. Sunita Pereira: A Champion of Neonatal and Maternal Care

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Dr. Sunita Pereira, an Associate Professor of Pediatrics at Tufts University School of Medicine, is a true champion of neonatal and maternal care. India has the highest burden of neonatal and maternal deaths in the world. In March this year, Dr. Pereira was the lead organizer of the American India Foundation-led neonatal summit in Boston. The Maternal and Neonatal Survival Initiative (MANSI) Summit was the first of its kind gathering of experts and community activists and leaders to discuss this issue.

Dr. Pereira is also a trustee of American India Foundation (AIF), which is committed to catalyzing social and economic change in India and building a lasting bridge between the United States and India through high-impact interventions in education, livelihoods, public health, and leadership development, with a particular emphasis on empowering girls and women to achieve gender equity.

INDIA New England News: Please tell our readers about your work and what you enjoy most about it?
Sunita Pereira: I am a neonatologist at Tufts Medical Center. I have dedicated my life to care of sick newborn and their mothers because 26 years ago, I was one of them, when the joy, wonderment of having my second child turned into bewilderment, fear and sorrow when he fell ill. I experienced firsthand the dedication, kindness, compassion and caring of my colleagues at Post Graduate Institute of medical Education, Chandigarh when not only selflessly cared for our son but became pillars of support for me and my husband. Our son was critically ill and he survived. I have since dedicated my life to giving back. I do this every day of my life with a prayer on my lips. Even to date I find a fulfillment in staying up all night keeping vigil by a bedside of a sick baby with the parents, fellows and residents, if at the end of the day we have improved the baby’s chances of survival and intact survival. Not all days are such. There are days when I have to accept that all our efforts may not change the course of things. Those are days that I may cry and struggle inside but I have to be there to support the parents through their hell.

I have held many leadership positions in my division of neonatal medicine but what I love most is caring for the sick neonates and their families and the next best thing to that is teaching and mentoring the next generation of physicians. I sincerely believe that we pediatricians are the first physicians to interact with new mothers and their children and we hold the keys to a nations’ health and prosperity. We, by our actions will determine if a child will have the best chances of survival, intact survival (cognitively and physically) and will become a healthy and productive member of society. This is a big responsibility and cannot be taken lightly. We are not only the physicians, the educators, the influencer, role models and mentors to the children and mothers but we need to become active in advocacy too.

INE: To which charitable, community and professional group do you belong and why?
SP: I am a trustee of American India Foundation. I joined AIF because I was impressed by the work AIF was doing to improve the lives of the less privileged in India. I particularly liked the fact that very little of the money raised from the Indian Diaspora was being used for administrative purposes and most of the Boston Chapter’s work was voluntary. I was also attracted to the programs that AIF has chosen to support including the “Leaning and migration program” which educates the children of migrant workers who would otherwise have no opportunity to escape the cycle of poverty and poor health.

I also support “Akshay Patra” which provides midday school meals to the children. 42% of India’s under five children are malnourished and malnutrition can have many adverse consequences such as poor cognition, poor productivity and stunting and these effects can be transgenerational !

I was the founding president and board member of a 501C3 corporation ” Youth that care” which was created by Brian (my husband), myself and our friends and neighbors Bill and Joan Boecke and Kathleen Farrell and Michael Moran in Newton to teach our children philanthropy. I have also worked for New England Women’s initiative, CARE USA to raise funds for girl’s education in Afganistan and for the Trefethen Evergreen Improvement Associations( TEIF)’s charitable arm in the past. Both these organizations supported education and children’s causes.

INE: What are you hobbies and interest?
SP: Collecting art and sculpture, I belong to the Museum of Fine Art’s visiting committee on Asian, Oceanic and African Art. Cooking : it is stress reliever. I love entertaining. Gardening and interior decoration: I spend my weekends in my garden either in Winchester or Peaks Island where I am trying my hand at organic gardening.

INE:Your rare talent?
SP: I watched my mother tailor my sister and my clothes when we were young and when I had children of my own, I taught myself to use the sewing machine and when we came to Boston, I made our living room drapes myself( I still have those drapes in my living room!). I would stich my daughter’s Halloween costumes and I am proud of having stitched her Peter Pan costume and her 5th grade social evening dress myself!

INE: Your favorite books?
SP: Bhagwad Gita

INE: Your favorite quotes?
SP: So stick to the fight when you’re hardest hit -It’s when things seem worst that you mustn’t quit.( anonymous). I love this quote because when we came to the US, this was the qoute that Brain and I lived by. It taught us resilience and persistence.

INE: Who inspires you the most?
SP: Mother Theresa. I met her twice in my life! I had known of her work through my mother who would visit the orphanage in Calcutta as she was the president of the woman’s Welfare Association, Ordinance factory but I was totally blown away when she came to speak to us at Christian Medical College Vellore after she won the Nobel Prize. She was so slight, humble and fragile but so powerful with her love, words and actions. I met her again in Boston at St. Elizabeth’s Medical Center in 1995.

INE: Your core value you try to live by?
SP: Honesty, integrity perseverance and persistence. If you believe in a cause persist and you can change the world by influencing one person at a time!

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