Pitt graduate’s work with Ebola victims earns invite to speech
Dr. Pranav Shetty says U.S. needs to continue fighting dreaded disease
January 21, 2015 12:01 AM
Dr. Pranav Shetty
Rob Carr/Getty Images
Pranav Shetty, second from left on the top row, was among first lady Michelle Obama’s guests during Tuesday’s State of the Union address in Washington, D.C.
Pranav Shetty, far left, talks to other guests before President Barack Obama's State of the Union address in Washington, D.C. Tuesday night.
Pablo Martinez Monsivais/Associated Press
Pranav Shetty, upper left, is shown in the audience with first lady Michelle Obama, before President Barack Obama's State of the Union address in Washington, D.C.
By Sean D. Hamill / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Pranav Shetty, a Shaler Area High School graduate who was a guest of President Barack Obama during the State of the Union speech Tuesday night for his efforts fighting the Ebola epidemic, recognizes that the disease is dangerous.
But a big reason Dr. Shetty was looking forward to meeting the president Tuesday night was for Mr. Obama’s simple action last fall when he publicly hugged a medical worker who had returned from working with Ebola patients in West Africa and who was deemed by doctors not to be infectious.
“That was really a sign of respect and acknowledgement of the science that [Mr. Obama] was able to” hug the medical worker when others might not have, said Dr. Shetty, who worked directly with patients in Liberia last fall for two months.
“We’ve found that Ebola is not a disease to be feared, but to be respected,” he said.
Dr. Shetty will return to West Africa on Thursday for another two-month stint as the global emergency health coordinator for the nonprofit International Medical Corps.
He said he hopes his presence at the speech Tuesday night not only recognizes all the work that has been done but that the United States “need[s] to maintain our commitment and our resources” to fighting Ebola.
While the number of cases-per-day has dropped significantly in Liberia, for example, from about 50 per day last fall to about two per day now, such drop-offs in the epidemic “have happened before. But three times we’ve had a resurgence,” he said. “We need to get to zero cases.”
He said before the speech that if he got a chance to meet and talk to Mr. Obama, he wanted to thank the president for “the attention he has brought” to the fight against Ebola.
But he also would have a request of the president.
“We really want to say that we can’t be dissuaded by good news,” Dr. Shetty said. “We need to take the good numbers and build on that, and make sure this doesn’t happen again.
“It’s really in our best interests,” he said.
Though his biographies note that he was born in India and raised in Trinidad, Dr. Shetty, 33, who now lives in a Virginia suburb near Washington, D.C., said he moved to Pittsburgh with his parents when he was 13 and “I consider myself to be from Pittsburgh.”
He grew up in Shaler. His parents and his sisters still live in the area. His father, Manohar Shetty, works as a psychiatrist here. And he met his wife, Nora, while attending the University of Pittsburgh.
“I think I owe a lot to Pittsburgh,” he said.
He attended middle school and high school in Shaler, surrounding himself with a group of friends “who were just highly motivated, excellent in what they were doing,” said Brian Davis, who taught Dr. Shetty in physics his senior year at Shaler. “They were interested in more than just what was going on in class.”
That kind of hard work and perspective paid off: Dr. Shetty finished sixth academically in his graduating class of 455, the school district said.
From there he got a bachelor of science degree in neuroscience at the University of Pittsburgh, where he also attended medical school.
While there, he was a member of researcher Daniel Simons’ lab staff, working primarily with then-graduate student Mish Shoykhet, now an assistant professor of pediatrics and pediatric critical care at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.
“He was that rare undergraduate who was able to function alone after training,” Dr. Shoykhet said.
Though he did not have a passion for lab work, Dr. Shetty was clearly on a “path for discovery” at Pitt, Dr. Shoykhet said, and he found his calling in emergency care and disaster assistance.
Dr. Shetty’s father, Manohar, said when his son began doing volunteer work in disaster areas overseas, “I thought he’d do it for a few years and come back and do regular emergency room work.”
“But somehow he is drawn to this kind of work,” his father said. “He has always been drawn more to people in need.
Dr. Shetty was selected by the White House to be at the State of the Union speech as a representative of all the health care workers who have helped in the fight against Ebola, something that Dr. Shetty said was humbling.
Being at the speech, he said, “is really an honor and a privilege to represent International Medical Corps as well as the tens of thousands of medical workers who have been working on the front lines of Ebola since the beginning.”
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