Cardiologist from Long Island now practices at Auburn Community Hospital. She talks about weight loss, water consumption — too much can kill some people with certain heart conditions — her relationship with local patients and the movies she has produced for Netflix
By Chris Motola
Q: What brought you to Auburn Community Hospital?
A: I’ve always been in New York aside from a brief thing in Houston, and I always wanted to work in a more underserved community. I kind of got spoiled. I was in academic medicine, where you have everything at your disposal, all the way up to transplants. Advanced surgeries are great, but there are a lot of the bang for the buck in prevention and management of things like hypertension, cholesterol, the basics. So I had always wanted to do that. My best friend had been looking for some opportunities up in Maine and ended up interviewing at Auburn. And that’s how I ended up here. It sounded like the perfect fit.
Q: What are some of the things you like better about practicing at a community hospital?
A: The first and foremost is I see patients in the office every day. The way my schedule was in the bigger centers, you’re kind of relegated to different services, so you can’t really build up your practice in the same way. So I get to see more patients, which is what I enjoy the most. Number two, taking care of them is a little easier because everyone’s just a phone call away here. And, of course, everyone’s so much nicer here. New York City has an attitude. The patients here are so appreciative. So many of them thank you for taking the time to talk with them here. In New York City it’s “how dare you keep me waiting two minutes!”
Q: Getting back to prevention, how do you apply that principle to your practice at Auburn?
A: Clinically, one of my specialties is taking care of adult congenital heart disease, so what that means is individuals who, as babies, had heart defects that were repaired. The surgeries were so good that these babies were able to live full adult lives. But a lot of adult cardiologists don’t know the anatomy and the surgeries. So that’s my specialty. I trained at Texas Children’s Hospital, and I was building a program back in Long Island. As a corollary to that, I do advanced cardiac imaging. But here there’s a strong need for basic, general cardiology. And the basics are still where the biggest bang for the buck is. Not in terms of money, but in the ability to affect positive change in health outcomes.
Q: Given your specialty training and experience at academic centers, are there any changes you’d like to affect at Auburn?
A: There’s always the basics, like bringing in more patients and providing immediate and quality service. So aside from that and building my practice, I’d love to focus on prevention, controlling hypertension and hyperlipidemia, weight loss, evaluating patients for disease risks. Women, in particular, don’t really know they’re at risk for heart disease. There’s a lot of awareness about breast cancer, but a lot of women don’t realize that heart disease is still the No. 1 cause of death in women in America. So women tend to be underevaluated and undertreated for heart disease. I just had a woman yesterday who hadn’t realized she’d had a heart attack. I’m not sure what pain she had that she misunderstood. It’s kind of a sign as she’s now dealing with the consequences. So I would really like to focus on that.
Q: As far as prevention goes, what’s something counterintuitive people may not know about heart health? That they may not hear all the time?
A: I think it’s that the weight loss thing isn’t a gimmick. At the end of the day, losing weight is kind of a science. You eat less than you put out. It’s not so much a mystery, but people get lost in all these diets and fads. You watch what you eat and try to choose the better foods. Weight loss and being a normal BMI does wonders for overall health, for blood pressure, for cholesterol and so much beyond weight. I have my patients keep a food diary so it’s not so much a mystery. It works; you just have to do it. The other thing is water consumption. I didn’t realize how much of a problem this was. I had a really hard time taking care of a lady with heart failure. She was watching these TV shows where they were encouraging people to drink a gallon of water. Water is good for you, but if you have heart disease, you have to really watch it. The blanket advice to drink a lot of water isn’t exactly right for heart patients. There are heart patients where a gallon of water will kill them. So I’d strongly recommend you talk to your doctor about how much water you drink. Same for kidney patients.
Q: I’ve heard horror stories about water toxicity, but that’s tremendous amounts of water in a short period of time. What makes a moderately high amount dangerous for some patients with heart disease?
A: So it’s specifically patients with diastolic heart failure, where your heart doesn’t relax, which is actually quite common. And then there’s systolic heart failure where you have a cardiomyopathy where the heart muscle is weak. So those patients have to watch their water because too much can send them into heart failure. Some patients need to be restricted to as little as a liter of water per day. I had a younger patient who had bounced in twice in three months with heart failure and couldn’t breathe because there was water in their lungs. They didn’t think they were drinking that much, but we added it all up and it was a gallon of volume. And here I had been constantly putting them on water pills. Now, it’s the opposite problem for most people. Most people don’t drink enough water. But that’s the problem with blanket advice from something like a TV show.
Q: I hear you have quite the side gig. You’re a filmmaker?
A: I make feature films that are on Netflix. I make Indian films. That’s another thing that’s great about Auburn; it offers me the flexibility to do that. That’s another important part of health: work-life balance. One of the films is “Care of Kancharapalem,” which is the number one Telegu film on Netflix and the number one Telegu film of all time on IMDB. The other one is “Uma Maheswara Ugra Roopasya,” which is also on Netflix. The first two films I produced. I just finished my directorial debut on a third project before coming to Auburn.
Q: Now are these American-produced films in the Telegu language or are they Indian films with domestic distribution?
A: They’re Indian-produced. The first had a theatrical distribution and then was sold to Netflix. The second one fell during the pandemic, so I sold it directly to Netflix. The third one is definitely intended for theaters. I’m a big fan of Tom Cruise and appreciate how much he’s doing to bring people back to the theaters. So go see films in theaters, not just on Netflix!
Name: Praveen Paruchuri, M.D.
Position: Cardiologist at Auburn Memorial Hospital
Education: St. George’s School of Medicine; Winthrop University
Affiliations: Auburn Community Hospital
Organizations: American Heart Association; American College of Cardiology