A Q&A with Dr. Jatinder Bhatia, our 2016 MIRACLES Award Honoree

We recently announced our 2016 MIRACLES Award and HOPE Award winners! Sponsored by Mead Johnson and Shire respectively, these awards honor and raise awareness of the work of medical professionals, researchers, philanthropists, and others making a difference in the lives of families with preemies. This year’s MIRACLES Award Honoree is Dr. Jatinder Bhatia, whose research has advanced the treatment of premature babies and whose care has touched the lives of thousands of families. 

jatinder-bhatia-high-resolutionA 1975 graduate of the Armed Forces Medical College of the University of Poona, India, Dr. Bhatia completed his pediatric residency, including a year as chief resident, at the Augusta University in Augusta followed by a joint fellowship in neonatology and pediatric nutrition at the University of Iowa before joining the faculty at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston where he rose through the ranks to associate professor in the Departments of Pediatrics and Preventive Medicine and Community Health. In 1991, Dr. Bhatia returned to Augusta University as a professor of pediatrics. Three years later he was named chief of the Section of Neonatology and program director of the Neonatal-Perinatal Medicine fellowship. He is also a professor in the Georgia Regents University College of Graduate Studies.

But Dr. Bhatia is more than an accomplished clinician who has earned countless awards. He is also a world renowned researcher, an active reviewer for numerous journals and author of more than 100 articles, abstracts and book chapters. On top of it all, he still finds time to display a level of engagement and compassion rivaled by few. He is a dedicated mentor to other physicians in the neonatal field and an incredibly caring and compassionate doctor who spends countless hours counseling and consoling parents of the babies in his care. We had a chance to ask Dr. Bhatia some questions and are thrilled to be able to share his answers here.

Why did you gravitate toward pediatrics and then neonatology in particular? Is there a personal connection?

I started with nutrition very early in my life since my father was an accomplished researcher in food technology.  Later, when I finished medical school, nutrition and mother or baby were still in my thoughts and in the first month of my training, I took care of a critically ill infant who survived and survived intact! The day she “turned around”, it was one of those moments which sealed my career to go into neonatology.  She is now a mother of two and is over 40 years old!  I went on to do fellowships in neonatology and nutrition and was fortunate to be able to train under world renowned faculty and so here I am!

You’re very research oriented in your work. What drives you to keep looking for new knowledge in the prematurity/neonate space?

When one stops seeking knowledge, one ceases to exist in that sphere.  I continue to look for ways to better our nutritional practices and have done that in our own work here almost constantly.  Neonatology is a young specialty  and neonatal nutrition is still not optimal.  We need to continue to strive for excellence so that is what drives me.

What do you think is the most important innovation in this space that you have seen or possibly will see in your lifetime?

Several:  Introduction of surfactant for premature infants with lung disease; introduction of iron in infant’s diet to decrease the incidence of iron deficiency which still remains a global problem in infants, children and even in adults; addition of DHA in infant formula: although we may never make formula to be “whole” like human breast milk, this was a giant step forward since there was no preformed DHA in infant formulas at that time.  As we continue to improve, we will see more biomarkers for earlier detection of diseases in infants, have better technology to assist them and have improved formulations, both enteral and parenteral, to sustain them.

What advice would you give to parents just beginning a journey through the NICU and everything that can come after it?

We are in it together: the parents, the infant and us, the medical team.  With shared vision and the armaments we have, we can improve survival and beyond survival, can improve outcomes.  At the end of the day, that is what neonatologists live for: to make a difference.  The parents have a long journey and I often tell them that the journey in the intensive care unit is like a roller coaster and eventually, the road flattens out and a new trajectory begins.  Having faith, trust and hope are what keeps us all going.

For more information about our annual awards, please contact us.

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