Meet the Doc: the Nagendran brothers

This Month Meet Dr. Jeevan Nagendran and Dr. Jayan Nagendran

1. Where are you from?

Dr. Jeevan Nagendran: We literally grew up right down the street. We went to Windsor Park Elementary School, right down the road from the University of Alberta Hospital, graduated from Harry Ainlay High School, and both went to the University of Alberta.

2. So what did you do as kids?

Dr. Jayan Nagendran: When we were younger, we played tennis. We liked that sport for sure –


Jeevan: No, no. No.

Jayan: Yeah, no – we were too far apart in age. I’m 4 years and 9 months older than Jeevan. But we had fun growing up. We both played water polo. Jeevan played rugby, and is a naturally talented runner. I played football.

3. Who decided to be a doctor first?

Jeevan: I remember from a very young age that Jayan always wanted to be a doctor.

Jayan: I don’t recall why that was exactly – but it probably had to do with my parents encouraging me to pursue medicine from a very early age.

Jeevan: Neither of our parents were in medicine, but our dad is a chemical and environmental engineer.

Jayan: And our mother, who came from Sri Lanka with only a high school education, went on to get her high school equivalent, then went to the University of Alberta and did a degree in computer science before she knew what a computer really was. She even went on to get her PhD.

Jeevan: She and Jayan convocated at the same time from the University of Alberta – which was really cool to watch. I think seeing her fight for it when we were growing up made us feel like we should probably do the same.

4. When did you decide to specialize in cardiac surgery?

Jeevan: I really fell in love with heart surgery when I was a first year engineering student, and Jayan was getting into cardiac surgery –

Jayan: Jeevan completed chemical engineering before he went into medicine.

Jeevan: And while I was in engineering, we would talk about the kind of things I was doing in school, and he would talk about the kind of training he was getting as a cardiac surgery resident. It was at that point I realized – I’m going to go into medicine to do heart surgery as well.

Jayan: For me, it was a long process because I always thought I would end up in medicine. When I eventually got into medicine, I had no idea what I wanted to do. It was only when I was doing my surgical rotation that I realized I had a passion for surgery.

5. Can you think of a specific time when either one of you had to lean on the other?

Jeevan: Oh, all the time. Especially when I was studying for my final exam to become a heart surgeon. For a year or two, I would go to Jayan’s house every weekend and we would go through heart surgery. It was easier and a lot more fun to study with a guy who’s already passed it and is a heart surgeon.

Jayan: During Jeevan’s residency, he won the most prestigious award in cardiac surgery [the Walton Lillehei Resident Forum award] at the American Association of Thoracic Surgery meeting. And so we spent a lot of time together working on it.

Jeevan: Oh, even on the flight there. I thought I had put together this really amazing presentation, and on the four hour flight to the conference Jayan ripped apart every single slide and we rebuilt it.

Jayan: That’s what big brothers do sometimes. But at the end of the day, he won.

Jeevan: People ask if there is competition between us, but that was never really the case. For us, it’s been important to see the other one do the best they can. We’re always focused on pushing each other forward.

6. What do you do for fun?

Jayan: I still like my sports, but I don’t play them as much anymore. I’m a big fan of the NFL and NBA. Especially the Oakland Raiders, since I did part of my training in California. It was hard to cheer for them for a little while… but I’m also a big Chicago Bulls fan. And of course I’m a Toronto Raptors fan.

Jeevan: When I’m not here [at the Maz] I mostly like to work out and run.

Jayan: I like to go away with my wife and kids every year – usually to Hawaii. I try to take time off around Spring Break, Christmas and the summer to keep some balance.

7. Why did you decide to stay in Edmonton?

Jayan: Edmonton is truly home. We were born and raised in Edmonton. Family was a big part of why we wanted to stay here. We both had opportunities to work at other centers – but what the Mazankowski Alberta Heart Institute has to offer is world class. We want, in our generation, for the Mazankowski Alberta Heart Institute to be considered one of the top centers in the world.

Jeevan: From an academic standpoint, there are very few other heart surgery programs in the country that combine real science with clinical care. Being able to join a science lab construct rather than build it yourself is a huge advantage. And thanks to the University Hospital Foundation’s support, it’s a no-brainer. And this is home.

Jayan: That’s a very important point – at other big academic centers, the people that do the real science are often not heavily involved in clinical care. Here we have a strong hand in both the lab, and what’s happening clinically – rather than having them separated. So we can take back to the lab what we should be investigating, that may have an influence clinically. Great work can get lost in the translation of how it’s going to come back and help patients. That, I think, is one of the real strengths that we have here.

Jeevan: It’s true. It’s because of the way the Maz is set up and the support from the University Hospital Foundation. Without that funding, we probably couldn’t get the ball rolling.

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