Godsend For Foreign Student
Nilanjan Neil Chatterjees grand adventure of moving to America to
earn a masters degree in business administration took a wrong turn a year ago.
On that day, while on the phone ordering car insurance, Chatterjee suddenly realized he
was slurring his words and breathing heavily. The UM student from India felt himself
salivating, and an alarming numbness spread in his left arm. He knew something had gone
After sitting down and trying to sort through what had hit him, Chatterjee made his way
to UMs Curry Health Center, where health workers promptly routed him to
Missoulas St. Patrick Hospital.
Prognosis: Chatterjee only 36 years old had survived a temporary stroke
in which a blood clot went to his brain. Though there had been no permanent damage, his
heart was faulty, and other more catastrophic events would likely follow.
Chatterjee took the news hard. A charismatic native of Patna, India, he had traveled the
world for years as an international businessman marketing pharmaceuticals, learning seven
languages in the process and marrying his Russian sweetheart, Olessia. He eventually
decided to formalize his education by uprooting his family, which now included 3-year-old
daughter Liza, and attending a university in the U.S. hinterlands.
An American friend in Moscow said to go to a place like Montana to have fun and
spend time with your family, he says. I think no one looks at where you went
to school five years after you have graduated. Its your performance. The price also
was right, since I am fighting a 45-to-1 exchange rate. But I was taking a risk coming to
this place, all this distance, investing all our savings, and what if it doesnt
If Chatterjees health problems forced him from school, it would be a devastating
blow to his familys plans for success. So he was astounded when hospital personnel
told him he could have major open-heart surgery here in Missoula with no disruption to his
St. Patrick Hospital is home to the International Heart Institute, a joint venture between the hospital
and UM that brings together an internationally recognized team of cardiologists, heart
surgeons and researchers who perform the most advanced cardiac procedures while searching
for new and improved ways to treat heart disease. And it happened to be located in the
Rocky Mountain community where Chatterjee had gambled his future.
Chatterjee finished his spring 2000 semester with no other episodes and went under the
knife May 19.
I was never too worried about the issue of mortality, he says. I was
worried whether I would have a good quality of life afterwards and still be able to go to
school. I also worried that I had no family here, with a daughter and a wife who
didnt speak English.
His surgeon, Stephen Tahta, says Chatterjee was born with an atrial septal defect
a 1- to 2-centimeter hole in the wall that separates the upper two chambers of the
heart. Tahta patched this hole using part of the tissue sack that surrounds the heart.
Tahta says the heart hole had overloaded the right side of Chatterjees heart with
too much blood, and over the years this caused his tricuspid valve to start leaking. Tahta
fixed the defective valve with a Duran Ring, a flexible circle of synthetic polymer with
an outer layer of cloth that is actually sewn into the heart tissue. The ring brings the
valve leaflets closer together so the heart can work properly. The device was developed by
Dr. Carlos Duran, the renowned heart surgeon who founded the International Heart Institute
Chatterjee also volunteered to participate in an institute study of heart blood flow
that took place during the surgery. It let me participate in something that can help
other patients in the future, he says.
The graduate student was amazed by the results. He left the hospital in five days,
carrying a red St. Patrick Hospital heart pillow wherever he went. (Holding
the pillow close helped support his tender chest when he coughed and laughed. It also
would have padded him if he fell and warned people that this was someone to be careful
around.) Chatterjee was exercising days after the surgery climbing Mount Sentinel
to the M and, best of all, his studies werent delayed.
He was attending UM summer school just over a month after having his heart repaired.
These days he says he feels much better than before his surgery. He was helped by the fact
that the hospital picked up the tab for his deductible and co-payment. All in all, his
familys American adventure is back on track.
They have a world-class hospital here in Missoula you dont have to
worry about your health or your familys health, he says.