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Passion for Tiny Patients

This determined pediatrician works doggedly for neonatal infants and children
By Cheryl England

I F THERE WAS only one word to describe Rohitkumar Vasa, MD, it would be “determined.” As the chair of pediatrics and the director of neonatology at Mercy Hospital and Medical Center in Chicago and as an attending neonatologist at Ann and Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital, Dr. Vasa is determined to improve healthcare for infants and children, especially those at high risk. And, along the way, he is determined to keep running marathons, which total 59 to date and span across every continent, including Antarctica.

Dr. Vasa began his career by earning his MD from M.S. University in Gujarat, India, in 1970. He remained in India to earn a post-graduate degree in pediatrics. In 1973, he moved to New York for a pediatrics residency at Beth Israel Hospital followed by a neonatology fellowship at New York University-Bellevue Hospital. He then voluntarily joined the U.S. Army and served for two years as director of neonatology and assistant chief of pediatrics at Fort Campbell, Kentucky.

Why join the Army? “I was very impressed with their set up,” he says. “The hospital was large and the programs were very well-developed. I also have tremendous respect for the people in the military.” As an added bonus, his pathologist wife, Usha, was also able to secure employment at Fort Campbell.

After the Army, where he received a U.S. Army Commendation Medal for excellent service in the pediatrics department, Dr. Vasa’s brother-in-law, who worked at Mercy, told him about an opening for a neonatologist. Dr. Vasa applied and, of course, landed the position in 1981. Since then, Dr. Vasa has held numerous leadership positions at Mercy. “I’ve enjoyed my time at Mercy very much,” says Dr. Vasa. “I’ve enjoyed the challenge of working with complex clinical problems in newborn babies and I’ve enjoyed being able to really help underserved patients from the South Side.”

He relates one particularly fond memory. “I had a patient about 15 years ago who went into preterm labor at 28 weeks,” he says. “Our team took care of the baby and the parents were so delighted that they began to host fundraising events for the neonatal unit. In ten years, they have raised nearly $1 million that has been very instrumental in our ability to purchase state-of-the-art equipment.”

Dr. Vasa is also highly involved in both local and international organizations. He served as the president of the Indian American Medical Association in Chicago, working to set up educational programs for the community as well as a free health clinic in the Rogers Park area. He has also worked with the Asian Human Services Family Health Center in the West Rogers Park area and three other clinics for over 10 years. He has led the American Heart Association’s “Save Children’s Lives” initiative in the State of Gujarat with the goal of reducing the mortality rate of children under five years of age.

Besides running, Dr. Vasa enjoys photography, travel, and music—and, recently, hiking challenges that include the base camp of Mt. Everest and Mt. Kilimanjaro. He has two daughters who are physicians and are married to physicians. “I told them that medicine is a good profession if you go into it for the right reason—it should be a calling, a way to provide service, not a means to wealth,” he says. “I think they are in it for the right reason!”

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