PH Specialist Story
Murali Chakinala, MD
Meet Dr. Murali Chakinala: A Passionate Ally in the Fight Against PH
Dr. Murali Chakinala is an Associate Professor of Medicine at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, Mo. He is a member of PHA’s Scientific Leadership Council (SLC), the guiding body for PHA’s clinical, research and medical education activities, and he serves as chair of the PHA 30-City Medical Education Program Planning Committee. He also recently served as 2011 PHA on the Road Regional Committee Chair for St. Louis. The following is an interview with Dr. Chakinala.
You specialize in pulmonary and critical care medicine. What initially sparked your interest in PH?
I became acquainted with PH in the late 1990s, during my training to become a lung transplant physician at Washington University. At the time, only epoprostenol (FlolanTM) was approved, and patients were typically listed for transplant soon after diagnosis. I was captivated by a couple of patients, particularly how they were transformed from being severely debilitated to being active and vibrant again. PH also provided me the opportunity to meld some of favorite subjects from medical school: pulmonology, cardiology and rheumatology. This fascination, coupled with some serendipity, launched my career as a PH specialist. It’s still such a new field with new therapies, evolving treatment strategies, growing timelines and so many unanswered questions that it remains just as captivating 10 years later.
What advances in PH treatment have you seen since you first started practicing?
Pretty much everything is an advance! We went from one IV therapy to nine FDAapproved therapies in about 10 years. The biggest things, however, are the push to simpler therapies, widespread use of combination therapy, and the ability to delay and in some cases avoid transplantation altogether. We still have a long way to go, but we should be proud of what we as a community have accomplished.
What is the most important piece of advice you give your PH patients?
Be your own advocate! This is a tough disease, and there is a lot of misunderstanding among healthcare practitioners. Don’t assume that all practitioners understand the disease and know what’s best for you. If things aren’t going as advertised, seek additional input, especially at PH Centers across the country. Become educated about your disease and network with others. There is such a rich network around the country, and it’s a shame not to take advantage. There is strength in numbers!
How did you become involved with PHA?
I knew from the beginning how vital PHA is to the fight. In 2002 I went to my first eye-opening support group meeting. Later that year, I attended my first PHA International Conference and was awestruck by the entire experience. I have been to every PHA International Conference since then and have proudly served on numerous panels and committees.
As our center matured, I understood the necessity for an active PHA presence in our area. We’re blessed to have wonderful support group leaders in our region who work closely and tirelessly with us to get the word out about PH, educate/empower patients and help ground us as medical professionals (who sometimes can get lost in the numbers). Being invited to serve on the SLC is one of my proudest professional accomplishments, as I am incredibly honored to serve alongside the giants of the PH field. While my time as 30-City chair hasn’t been long, I have already found it to be incredibly rewarding. To me, these positions are merely the latest way I can help PHA, which has helped me, our center and our patients immeasurably over the years.
You also served as the 2011 PHA on the Road Regional Committee Chair for St. Louis. What effect did this experience have on you?
First, I was incredibly proud that PHA chose St. Louis as one of the four sites in 2011. It was an affirmation of the efforts of so many folks in our region, including my nurses, our support group leaders, our patients and their loved ones. I thoroughly enjoyed the planning process and was thrilled that we recruited representatives from four other centers in our region. It was a collective effort, just like everything else at PHA!
Anything else you’d like to add?
Everyone always says how thankful PHA is for the efforts of the medical community … and it should. But we don’t always give thanks for what PHA and our patients give us. I became a physician to help people, pure and simple. This community has provided me the means to do just that. But beyond that, it provides scientific stimulation, emotional gratification, and a sense of purpose that so many in the world are deprived of. And for that, I’m extremely grateful to my patients, PHA and the community at large.