The second of two Child Neurology Society Lifetime Achievement Awards presented this year celebrates the life and career of Dr. Bhuwan Garg. Sadly, the presentation of this award is bittersweet, as it is to be given posthumously.
Bhuwan Garg died peacefully after a brief illness on April 11, 2012. For us, he was the beloved mentor and friend who firmly established child neurology at Indiana University and Riley Hospital for Children. To the national and international child neurology community he was an academic leader in education and clinical research. In both spheres he was an intellectual force with few peers. He, however, would want to be remembered as the passionate, loving, guiding patriarch of his family and those closest to him in his community.
Dr. Garg was born in Bikaner, Rajasthan, the eldest of his siblings. On completing his premedical studies at Delhi University in 1961, he was accepted into India’s premier medical school, the All India Institute of Medical Science (AIIMS), where he completed his MBBS degree in 1965. After a three year tour of duty at the rank of Captain in the Indian Army’s Medical Corps, he immigrated to the United States for postgraduate training. He completed three years of pediatric residency at St. Vincent’s Hospital in Staten Island in New York and at St. Louis Children’s Hospital in the Washington University (St. Louis) program. Dr. Garg then went to the University of Minnesota to learn child neurology under one of the founders of American child neurology, Dr. Kenneth Swaiman. After a research fellowship, he eventually brought his family to Indianapolis, where in 1977 he assumed a faculty position in Neurology at the Indiana University School of Medicine. He was program director of Child Neurology from 1985 to 1995 and then section director from 1991 to 2000. Although he subsequently bequeathed these titles to others, he remained the rock on which the section was built. In 1996, he achieved the academic rank of tenured Professor of Neurology, and became Professor Emeritus of Neurology in 2009.
Dr. Garg filled his career with scholarly accomplishments. His work included the early description of colpocephaly as a malformation, the delineation of the nosology of hyperexplexia, demonstration of the usefulness of evoked potentials in leukodystrophies, and the description of nonepileptic seizures in children, to cite some of his seminal accomplishments. He published extensively on pediatric stroke. In addition, he authored numerous chapters in major textbooks on such topics as pediatric stroke, disorders of micturition, and poisonings.
Dr. Garg’s scholarly work not only increased our understanding of the developing nervous system but furthered the careers of his trainees. All of his trainees co-authored at least one publication with him and many have several listed on their CVs. He was devoted to mentoring and education. In a broad sense, these were his life’s work. He was brilliant – one of the smartest men most of us had ever encountered. He was not only steeped in medical doctrine, his knowledge extended into many other areas such as the natural sciences, art, music history, and religion. There were no boundaries to what he imparted to those around him, and each lesson held a larger purpose than the topic at hand. He intuitively knew people’s strengths and was prescient in helping them chart their future course. He typically would propose a topic for a paper, or recommend a junior colleague’s appointment to a committee. Soon, the recipient of his attention realized that this goal was not the apparent goal, but that the achievement came as a rich tapestry of scholarly work, new collegial relationships, and an academic niche that overshadowed the ostensible finished product. To Dr. Garg, none of us were ever finished products.
Although his intellectual gifts were obvious, it was his humility and kindness that enhanced his national and international reputation. Dr. Garg tempered any acknowledgement of his own achievements by deferral to the achievements of others or by cautionary lessons of how one could do even more. He truly enjoyed people. He forged friendships and mentoring relationships with hundreds of people. He was always available for each and every one of us. He was a national leader in the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology examinations, and in all aspects of the Child Neurology Society, Professors of Child Neurology, Child Neurology Foundation, and the American Academy of Pediatrics. His focus in all of these endeavors was to grow the programs and to strengthen neurologic education. Dr. Garg was the driving force behind the Child Neurology Society High School Neuroscience Prize, which identifies and rewards budding neuroscientists of exceptional potential. He was a reviewer for half a dozen journals and sat on the editorial boards of several more both in the United States and India. He was an integral member of the Neurological Society of India. Together with Dr. Vinod Puri, he established a joint annual Indian-American Neurophysiology conference in Delhi, India. Before he fell ill, he was selected for the 2012 Child Neurology Society’s Lifetime Achievement Award. He truly was amazed that he was to receive this award, remarking that he was not nearly old enough to warrant it. Though now poignant, that sentiment only reinforces how much he had accomplished, and how highly esteemed he was within the world of child neurology.
While Bhuwan held us all closely, he held his love for his family most tightly. To appreciate the depth of that love, one needed only to listen to him talk about his wife, daughter, and grandchildren to truly see the light in his eyes and hear the brio in his voice. Early in his career in the United States, Bhuwan married Rukmini (familiar to all as Ruku), who is an obstetrician- gynecologist. He once related the story of their move from St. Louis, Missouri, to Minneapolis, Minnesota. It was not entirely clear from the retelling whether the distaff Dr. Garg embraced the colder climate with open arms, but the wind chill was no match for their ardor. They went on to raise their daughter, Nisha, a graduate of Swarthmore College and Fordham University School of Law. Nisha and her husband Adam gave their parents the best presents that could be imagined, two grandchildren. Though known for his volubility in discussions, Bhuwan almost always projected an underlying serenity about life. To our knowledge, his daughter’s wedding and his grandchildren’s births caused the only sustained perturbations in his customary calm, reflecting the depth of his affection for them. Within his family, Dr. Garg’s paternal influence extended beyond his immediate family. He was a father figure to his siblings; one of his brothers is a physician. Bhuwan saw what was good in all those close to him. At his memorial service, his nieces and nephews affirmed the love and respect accorded him within his extended family. They recounted more than one proposed marriage that came to fruition only because of his counsel to doubtful parents of a would-be bride or groom. Although Bhuwan’s family was the center of his world, no one felt like an outsider in his presence. Every year the Gargs opened their home for get-togethers with their ‘‘Riley family.’’ The blending of homemade Indian cuisine and Hoosier food was a metaphor for how we all were accepted into the Garg family.
Dr. Garg was not a physically large man. But, as befitting a truly wonderful person, his presence transcended his physical stature. Dr. Garg achieved what he did because he so cared for the people around him. His kindness and compassion were contagious. While he encouraged those around him to do scholarly work or develop programs of lasting importance, it was his enthusiasm and warmth that caused others to invest themselves in his vision. He made people, institutions, and the specialty of child neurology immeasurably better by being with us, and has left us not only a legacy of passion for knowledge, but an unfading memory of how to bring out the best in ourselves and others.