When Kids Have Problems With the Bones In Their Faces, Hands or Feet, Ananth Murthy Stands Ready to Help

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Ananth Murthy's office looks ready for Halloween: Amid the books and desk items are several colorful skulls that perfectly match those of some of his young patients.

Murthy, 29, is one of a handful of doctors in the country specializing exclusively in pediatric plastic surgery. He helps kids who have been in accidents or were born with deformities of the face, hands or feet.

Murthy uses the skulls, made from a material similar to bone, to practice on before he operates for real on a child's head.

"The most important thing is safety, because that is a child who is asleep and their head is open," Murthy said.

Being a doctor means having a strong stomach. Murthy has remade faces using bones from other parts of the body, and he has turned toes into fingers.

"It's very artistic," he said. "It is almost like carpentry -- a lot of it has to do with how they will look afterward."

Despite work that is "gruesome" at times, Murthy can't think of anything he would rather do. Six of his relatives are physicians. Growing up in Bangalore, India, and watching his aunt run a clinic, he knew from a young age that he wanted to be a doctor.

Physicians spend years in school. Murthy graduated from high school at age 15 and went to a special college for people interested in medicine. He started medical school at 18 and graduated when he was 22.

After medical school, some doctors spend several more years learning a specialty such as pediatric plastic surgery. And throughout their careers, doctors must keep current on medical advances. Many also publish their own research.

"The hard part is the training," Murthy said. "You just don't have a life. You don't get much sleep."

Since he began working at Children's National Medical Center in Washington, Murthy has been getting more sleep, but he's always prepared to rush to the hospital if there's an emergency. He carries his pager everywhere.

Of his surgical skills, Murthy said: "I feel lucky that parents can bring their kids here [to the hospital], and I can say, 'Yeah, I can do that.' "

-- Amy Orndorff

© 2006 The Washington Post Company