The chief of neonatology at new York Presbyterian Brooklyn Methodist hospital discusses the remarkable Process of helping Premature or ill infants Progress to full health

By Megan Schade • photos By amessé photography

Madhu Gudavalli, MD, chief of neonatology at New York Presbyterian Brooklyn Methodist Hospital, grew up surrounded by medicine…literally.

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“My father was a well respected physician,” said Dr. Gudavalli. “He saw patients in his consultation room in the front of our house.” That home was in small village in Andhra Pradesh, a state in southern India.

“My father lived during an interesting time in Indian history,” she recalled. “He was a medical student during World War II, when India was a British colony and struggling to gain independence. He completed his training during the war years and was extremely influenced by the teachings of Mahatma Gandhi and the importance of service to the community and the country. After World War II, my father returned to his village to serve as a community physician. Many years later, he moved to the city to teach medicine.”

Dr. Gudavalli so admired her father that she enrolled in Guntur Medical College, in Andhra Pradesh, where she met her husband, Prasad. In 1972, they moved to New York, where Dr. Gudavalli completed an internship at New York Downtown Hospital and New York Queens Hospital (both now parts of the New York Presbyterian Healthcare System).

“I initially thought that I would pursue surgery,” said Dr. Gudavalli. “But then I was drawn to working with the babies in my pediatrics rotation at Bellevue Hospital and chose to pursue my fellowship in neonatology under the guidance of Dr. Lois Neumann. I never regretted my decision.”

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Neonatology is the clinical care of newborns, premature, and ill infants younger than 28 days old. “The babies that I see are often so small. Sometimes they are born only 24 weeks into the pregnancy and weigh as little as a pound and a half,” said Dr. Gudavalli. “Seeing their progress is truly amazing. Week by week, many of them make steady progress and are able to breathe, feed and survive on their own. Seeing that transformation is very rewarding.”

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In 1990, Dr. Gudavalli was asked to join the NYP Brooklyn Methodist team as chief of neonatology within the Department of Pediatrics. The neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) at NYP Brooklyn Methodist is a Level III, which means the unit can provide comprehensive clinical and surgical care.

“When I started working here 26 years ago, NICU was an eight bed unit,” said Dr. Gudavalli. “Today, a robust team of six board certified neonatologists, two dedicated pediatric surgeons, specially trained neonatal intensive care nurses, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, clinical pharmacists, and physical, occupational and respiratory therapists staff the 24 bed unit. The hospital has gone from 3,000 births per year to over 5,600. Everyone here is dedicated to seeing these babies thrive.”
“Dr. Gudavalli is the cohesive glue that binds the staff together,” said Nitin Ron, MD, neonatologist. “It is not uncommon for neonatologists to move from hospital to hospital as they build their careers it speaks volumes that the doctors that work with her have all been here for years. No one moves!”

As individual as each child is, there is a similarity in reasons a baby might be admitted to the NICU after birth. “The most common reason for a baby to be in the NICU is premature birth,” said Dr. Gudavalli. “Any child born before 37 weeks is considered premature babies at this stage have not yet systemically developed enough to thrive outside of the hospital. They are unable to regulate their temperature, maintain body weight, and other issues that can result in long term effects. However, there are many other reasons a baby would be admitted to the NICU low blood sugar, respiratory distress due to underdeveloped lungs, infection. It is difficult to always know beforehand when a baby is going to need our care. Cases are often wholly unexpected, and for that, we have to always be prepared.”

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Dr. Gudavalli said the close connection among the staff on her unit and with the other departments is what makes NYP Brooklyn Methodist unique.

“We are in constant contact with the physicians on the Labor and Delivery Unit so that we are prepared for any newborns who may have had a difficult birth, have known congenital deformities, or whose mother might have been ill or running a fever during birth,” said Dr. Gudavalli. “And we are a very nurturing unit. Not only are we caring for perhaps the most vulnerable of patients; we are also specially trained to work with the parents and loved ones, and are dedicated to helping parents cope with difficulties during their child’s hospitalization.”

The NICU is open to parents nearly 24 hours a day, save for a one hour period where private patient information is shared among clinicians.

“The importance of parental involvement while the baby is in the NICU cannot be overstated,” said Dr. Gudavalli. “The neonatal period is crucial to proper infant/parent bonding, which supports the child developmentally but also helps tremendously in the baby’s healing. We do everything we can to support a family centered environment.”

“Dr. Gudavalli brings a magic to the unit,” continued Dr. Ron. “I’ve worked with her for 15 years, and what I have observed is her unflinching love, compassion and humility. Not only is her clinical knowledge and practice impeccable, but she has such a huge heart. Each family that comes into the NICU becomes family to her. In fact, one day she came into the NICU when she wasn’t scheduled just to check in, and the telephone was ringing off the hook. She wanted to make sure that each parent calling in about their child was attended to, so she sat with the unit clerk for hours, answering phones, speaking to families, and providing support. Her dedication is amazing.”

This generous spirit extends far beyond the hospital. During her career, Dr. Gudavalli has served as president of the New York Perinatal Society and the Brooklyn Pediatric Society. She is actively involved in resident recruitment and training and in teaching medical students. She and her husband have been involved in several charitable activities as well, including those dedicated to the welfare of orphan girls in India and community affairs nearer to home in Staten Island.

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Pramod Narula, MD, chairman of the Department of Pediatrics at NYP Brooklyn Methodist added, “She has made such an impact on our Hospital and the families of Brooklyn that we renamed the NICU in her family’s honor. We are incredibly fortunate to have her.”

NewYork-Presbyterian Brooklyn Methodist Hospital
506 6th Street / 718.499.CARE (2273) / www.nyp.org/brooklyn