Dr V. Vijay, NYC heart surgeon and pilot, flies the Boeing 747 around the world to bring essential medical supplies.
By Khyati Joshi
In this prolonged lockdown, we come across many stories of frontline warriors battling the Covid-19 pandemic occurring around us. This Indian-American warrior’s story is still unique. Dr. V. Vijay is well known New York Heart Surgeon, but he is also a pilot of the Boeing 747 Jumbo-jet. He flies to places like Kuala Lumpur, Tokyo, Zheng Zhou, Changsha and Hong Kong to bring tons of FEMA mandated medical supplies to the United States while working at the hospital.
Dr Vijay hails from Madanapalle in Chittoor district of Andhra Pradesh and has an MBBS from Sri Venkateswara Medical College, Tirupati. In 1989, he went to Trinidad, West Indies to work in Vascular Surgery and Transplantation. Dr Vijay was the surgical member of the Team that performed the first live-related Kidney Transplantation in the Caribbean. Subsequently, he emigrated to New York to do his General Surgical training at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, completing his Cardiothoracic Surgical training at The Albert Einstein College of Medicine, New York and became a faculty member and produced over a 100 peer reviewed publications, several textbook chapters and over half a dozen Patents on Cardiopulmonary bypass machines. For his contributions to Cardiac Engineering and Artificial Organs, he was invited by several countries like the UK, France, Germany, Japan, Korea, and Singapore to deliver lectures. He was the Chief Guest and Dastur Memorial Orator at the Indian Cardiothoracic National Congress in 2003.
Dr Vijay was invited by the pioneer Cardiac Surgeon Dr Denton Cooley to present the results of the First ever Re-operative Coronary Surgery on a beating heart in 1998. Continuing his streak of several firsts, Dr Vijay was the First Fellow of the Prestigious Rachel Cooper Foundation for Pediatric Cardiac Surgery at the famous Babies Hospital of Columbia University and the Montefiore Children’s Hospital in New York. He founded the Cardiac Transplantation division at the Winthrop University Hospital and performed the First Artificial Heart implantation on Long Island in 1999.
Interestingly, as life turns out, his second grade school teacher’s report card prediction came true that he would become an airline pilot. After becoming a heart surgeon in the US, Dr Vijay pursued his childhood dream of flying. He started studying Aeronautical Engineering at the Teterboro School of Aeronautics in New Jersey and went to work as a Maintenance Engineer on Boeing 737/757/767 and 777 aircraft and Rolls Royce and General Electric Jet engines at United and North American Airlines, while continuing to fulfil his hospital duties.
Dr Vijay started his commercial flying as a Sky Diving Pilot on De Havilland Twin Otter turbine aircraft where he would pick up 20 jumpers, fly them to 13,000 feet (limit of altitude without oxygen masks), drop them over the airport and return in a spiral to the runway before the jumpers reached the ground. It was this kind of flying that tremendously refined his airmanship skills, he says. He then obtained the highest pilot license, the Airline Transport Pilot and transitioned to passenger flying with Elite Airways, a United Express Airline and flew from New York and Las Vegas bases. Subsequently, he trained and now flies exclusively international, transoceanic flights on heavy jets such as the Boeing 777 and Boeing 747. Now at Sky Lease Cargo, the Boeing 747 Jumbo is his dream come true as he says “747 is the most majestic of all of man’s creations”.
Dr Vijay says “with the Corona pandemic looming over the world today, my dual professions of Aviation and Medicine have become strong weapons in the fight against Covid-19. I am very lucky to be serving regionally in the medical field on certain days of the month and serving humanity internationally the rest of the days by flying the Boeing 747.” He added that ”the ideology of constantly learning something has given me a chance to fight as a warrior in such a calamity.”
In the fight against Corona, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) regulated cargo operations throughout April (extendable to end of May) to fly only essential medical supplies. The international operation of Sky Lease Cargo is also carried out under the direction of FEMA. Dr Vijay has been flying continuously since April 1 to international locations in this FEMA effort and had plans to return to his hospital duties and support his healthcare colleagues.
Dr Vijay has so far flown more than 500 tons of medical equipment such as medical masks, gloves, PPE equipment, testing kits and ventilator parts on these FEMA flights from Kuala Lumpur, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Changsha and Zheng Zhou. He added that lockdown would prove to be an effective weapon in the fight against Corona, if combined with strict adherence to social distancing, barrier protection and hand sanitizing.
As an NRI, Dr Vijay feels proud that India, under Prime Minister Modi’s leadership and vision is taking extraordinary and successful steps against Covid19. Modi’s generous response to President Trump’s request for much needed medicines is greatly appreciated.
“In future, if I fly a cargo flight from India to America to airlift medicines, that will be a very proud moment for me”, says Dr Vijay.