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Dr Devi wants to be New York's Public Advocate

By ABHIJIT MASIH
Last updated on: October 29, 2021 09:02 IST
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A traumatic COVID-19 medical emergency drove physician Dr Devi, of General Hospital soap fame, to run for public office in New York.

IMAGE: Dr Devi Elizabeth Nampiaparampil canvassing for votes for the office of Public Advocate. Photograph: Kind courtesy Devi Elizabeth Nampiaparampil/Facebook

Two of the most life-altering decisions Dr Devi, 44, has taken in her life came about within the walls of a hospital, while in a hospital bed.

The first, the decision to follow medicine as a career.

The second, her resolve to run as the Republican candidate for the office of New York City's Public Advocate.

Both decisions arose from moments when she felt she had reached the depths of despair.

Dr Devi is Devi Elizabeth Nampiaparampil.

She has been known simply as Doctor Devi ever since her 2002-2005 appearance on the long-running daytime soap opera General Hospital as well as on The Dr Oz Show, which was well before she qualified as physician.

An actor and physician, who also appears on television frequently as a medical contributor, Dr Devi, in next Tuesday's election, is running for the second highest official position in New York City, next only to the mayor.

Her first critical decision, ie to become a doctor, happened when she was recovering from a life-threatening medical emergency, which Dr Devi battled and overcame when she was 16 years old.

While returning from school one afternoon, she felt unusually exhausted and fatigued and had to be rushed to the emergency room.

She had suffered with what was described as a ventricular tachycardia episode. It's a Code Blue situation where the heart does not work properly.

The next month or so were spent in an ICU in a Westchester hospital and the Columbia-Presbyterian Babies Hospital and she took almost a year to recover and go back to school, determined to eventually become a doctor.

A couple of decades after that stint in the hospital, Devi took the second most important decision of her life, again from the solitary confines of her hospital room, to run for the prestigious job of NYC's Public Advocate, after the unpleasant experience meted out to her by the city government at the height of the pandemic.

Last winter, Dr Devi, her investment banker husband Hormis Antony Thaliath and her two-year-old daughter contracted COVID-19.

If this was not all, Devi was also full-term pregnant at the time.

With her husband fighting for his life in a hospital, and she about to go into labor, Dr Devi had to immediately come up with a plan for the care of her toddler.

Sending the little girl to her parents wasn't an option because the child was infected with the virus and would put her parents in danger.

Helpless and at her wit's end, Dr Devi pinned her hopes on the system providing her with assistance in this hour of desperation, and tried reaching out to New York city officials for help.

To her dismay, the city's response shattered all her hopes. Instead of help, she was told that her situation was not ideal and since she could not provide a safe environment for her young daughter, the girl would be taken away from her.

So, last winter, with her newborn the only angel available to protect her during her darkest days of the pandemic, the Indian American physician, who runs a successful practice in the heart of New York's financial district and specialises in preventing and treating chronic pain, decided to run for public office.

The person elected to the Public Advocate's office in New York City is first in line to succeed the mayor if s/he is incapacitated or deemed unfit for office. The Public Advocate is crucially the connection between the electorate and city government, therefore a sort of watchdog for New York citizens.

IMAGE: Meeting Rudy Giuliani, the former mayor of New York. Photograph: Devi Nampiaparampil/Twitter

Dr Devi is the daughter of Mary and Joseph Nampiaparampil who migrated to America in the early 1970s from Kerala.

She was born at the New York University Medical Center in 1973, interestingly, where she now works as part of the teaching faculty.

A graduate of the BA/MD programme at Northwestern University, where she double-majored in economics and biology, Dr Devi completed her medical training at the Harvard Medical School. She also trained as a journalist at Columbia. In 2015, she was appointed associate professor of rehabilitation medicine at the NYU School of Medicine.

IMAGE: Attending to a patient at the NYU Medical Center. Photograph: Devi Nampiaparampil/Twitter

Speaking to Rediff.com US Contributor Abhijit Masih, Dr Devi recalls the apathy the city showed towards her mid-pandemic traumatic situation, "Throughout the pandemic, what I noticed again and again, was that there were different obstacles that I faced, that were to some degree imposed by our government leaders. I needed help from the city because there was no way to find childcare in this kind of scenario. Nobody wanted to come into a COVID home and there were also laws preventing people from coming into a COVID home.

"The city's response was that this is an unsafe situation. And they almost said they would take her (Dr Devi's daughter) away from me and put her in an orphanage, just one step short of that.

"So I started to feel like I now have to battle the city, rather than turning to the city for help."

It was a very stressful experience for Dr Devi. Not one she will ever forget.

The fact that she did not receive help from the people that could help or were not as sympathetic as they could have been strengthened her resolve to get involved in the democratic process to try and bring a change to the system.

IMAGE: Dr Devi, right, seen here before the commencement of the NYC Public Advocate Debate on NY1, October 20, 2021. Photograph: Devi Nampiaparampil/Twitter

Mercifully, the family soldiered through that harrowing pandemic ordeal and everybody is healthy today.

Dr Devi feels it was her newborn who kept her sane.

"I thought it was my job to protect this unborn baby and that kept me going," she says, adding, "Maybe I am supposed to think that god actually sent an angel to take me through the worst days of my life -- when I thought my husband was dying, when I was separated from my child and these horrible things were happening that I was never alone. I was always with this baby, to me, my baby is a hero."

As a doctor, who was making a difference at an individual level, this is the story of how her personal ordeal drove Dr Devi to try and make a difference at a larger level and look at politics.

And that's how a real life, reel life, doctor came to the decision, as her angelic newborn watched over her, to change her profession.

If she wins the election on November 2, on the eve of Diwali, she will be an elected official and politician.

Feature Presentation: Aslam Hunani/Rediff.com

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