Recently, the editor of Innovate magazine sat down with Murali Chakinala, MD, a pulmonologist, and Lisa de las Fuentes, MD, a cardiologist, to talk about their lives as husband and wife and as Washington University physicians and researchers who care for patients at Barnes-Jewish Hospital.
Editor: How did you meet?
Lisa: I was a medical student in Dallas and he was a resident, though he never supervised me. We were part of a group of friends who went to a Dallas Mavericks basketball game together. We made a connection that day, but—
Murali: It took me six months to ask her out. When I finally did, she said, “Call me back in a month.”
Lisa: I was getting ready to leave the country for a two-week train trip in Europe. But he did call when I got back. We started dating in September of 1995, and we got married in May of 1998.
Editor: Was it difficult for both of you to find fellowships in the same city?
Lisa: Match week was the week after our wedding. (Editor’s note: Match week is when residents find out where they will go to complete their specialty training in a fellowship program.) We knew we wanted to end up at an academic medical center like Washington University and Barnes-Jewish Hospital. I wanted to specialize in cardiology, and Murali was interested in pulmonology.
Murali: We had two requirements: We wanted to be together, and we didn’t want to go too far north; as Southerners we were worried about cold winters. So we drew a line on a map and said, “Nothing north of St. Louis.” We moved here in 1999.
Editor: What is it like to be married to a doctor?
Lisa: Well, our lives are a delicate balancing act. We keep a detailed calendar that includes work and home life. It’s what gets us all to the right places at the right time. We’ve learned that any addition to one of our schedules has immediate ramifications for the others’. Our two young sons (ages 12 and 9) have learned how to read the calendar, so they know what to expect from day to day. Life gets complicated—but we make it work.
Murali: It helps that Lisa and I work at the same place. We park our cars next to each other, and we work two floors apart.
Editor: So, do you have lunch together often?
[lots of laughter]
Lisa: Maybe once a year!
Murali: In all seriousness, though, we each benefit from being married to another physician. We can empathize with each other and are more understanding when one of us is stressed about work or has a big deadline upcoming.
Editor: What are your two boys interested in? How have your careers influenced them?
Lisa: Well, it’s not surprising that they are both analytical, concrete thinkers. They like math and the sciences.
Murali: Our boys know that we work pretty hard at our jobs. They understand that we take care of people who are sick and that what we do is important.
Lisa: And they can be pretty popular when we can help them with a medical show-and-tell.Medicine is part of our family.
I was visiting operating rooms when I was a 10-year-old.
Murali: My father was a pulmonologist, and Lisa’s mother was a CRNA (certified registered nurse anesthetist).
Editor: What do you love about your work?
Lisa: I’m involved in research looking at metabolic traits such as high cholesterol and diabetes. I’m curious about the genetic characteristics of these conditions. And I’m interested in intervention; what can we do to prevent these illnesses and the conditions they cause? Right now, I’m involved in a study with Sam Klein looking at the changes significant weight loss can have on the heart. (Samuel Klein, MD, is a Washington University physician at Barnes-Jewish Hospital.)
I love that my work introduces me to new things, new ideas. It’s never boring. My career has allowed me to learn, grow and reinvent myself.
Murali: I thought I’d be like my father, a lung specialist in private practice who treated patients with all kinds of lung disorders. But thanks to the medical center and its opportunities, some hard work and some serendipity, I’ve found an unexpected niche. I focus on pulmonary vascular disorders, primarily pulmonary hypertension, which is a rare but serious condition. I’ve become an expert on this rare disease and conduct clinical research that will determine future treatments.
I’m also heavily involved in national initiatives that will shape the future delivery of health care for pulmonary hypertension patients. The medical center is a wonderful place, filled with diverse and brilliant minds. St. Louis has turned out to be a great home for us.
Read more articles from Innovate Fall 2014.