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Shanti David, a pediatrician and animal lover, dies

Dr. Shanti David wanted to serve the inner-city children of Baltimore.
Dr. Shanti David wanted to serve the inner-city children of Baltimore.

Some of Shanti David’s best vacations involved going to the beach, and because she did not know how to swim, she waded in the ocean, staying close to the shore. But during one family trip to Virginia Beach, Virginia, in 2015, the surf was too rough, and Dr. David was forced to watch from the sand.

A few weeks later, at the age of 61, Dr. David vowed to avoid repeating the situation.

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“She said, ‘You know what? I’m going to learn how to swim,’ ” said her daughter, Sharon David. “She was the oldest person in her swimming group at the YMCA. And then she felt like, ‘You know what? I want to do a second class.’ So for two consecutive summers, she took swimming classes in her 60s.”

Dr. David, an Ellicott City resident who ran her own pediatric practice in Baltimore for 18 years and adored her patients and their families as much as she loved animals, died Aug. 7 at her daughter’s home in Fort Wayne, Indiana, of uterine cancer. She would have turned 67 on Aug. 14.

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Dr. David had overcome a bout with colon cancer diagnosed in 2004. A member of Linden Linthicum United Methodist Church in Clarksville, she was confident she would rebound once again.

“She was very positive that God would cure her, and we all thought she would beat this,” said a friend, Charlotte Stoughton, who had known Dr. David since 2004 when she joined the congregation. “She was exemplary in her quest to find a cure. But through it all, just like our minister said, Shanti was right with God. She never lost her faith.”

Born in Tamil Nadu, India, the former Shanti James was the fourth of five daughters raised by Alexander James, a post office inspector, and Mabel James, a teacher. Growing up, she enjoyed reading Jane Austen novels and took delight in riding bicycles and climbing trees at a time when girls were not supposed to participate in such activities.

“She was the tomboy in the family,” her daughter said. “In India, the girls did the cooking and the boys did the shopping. But because they didn’t have any brothers and their mother did not treat them under those prescribed gender roles, she took on the role of going shopping. She thought, ‘If a boy can do it, so can I.’ ”

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Dr. David graduated from the Christian Medical College in Vellore, India, in 1975. Her family made arrangements with the family of Vincent David to marry, which they did in 1978 in Chennai, India.

Recruited by a pastor attempting to finance a ship that could serve as a mobile hospital, the couple immigrated to the United States in 1986. When that effort fell through, Dr. David completed a three-year residency at Howard University Hospital in Washington, D.C., in 1991.

At the hospital, Dr. David was influenced by her mentor, Dr. Gail Nunlee-Bland, a pediatric endocrinologist at Howard University Hospital, to become a pediatrician.

“She just respected her so much, and Dr. Bland kind of taught her how to approach a patient with gentleness and kindness and just to listen to the patient,” said the younger Dr. David, a doctor herself who specializes in physical medicine and rehabilitation. “And she loved children. She always felt the innocence of a child was something to be protected and honored. And I think she had a very childlike heart as well.”

After finishing her residency, Dr. David worked at Tri-State Community Health Center in Hancock from 1991 to 1992, Park West Medical Center in Baltimore from 1994 to 1996, Total Health Care in Baltimore from 1996 to 1997, and Bon Secours Hospital from 1997 to 2002.

In 2002, Dr. David opened her own clinic, Shanti David LLC, in the 2300 block of Garrison Blvd. in Baltimore. Her daughter said her mother had developed a heart for Baltimore.

“She felt that inner-city Baltimore was an area of need that is often overlooked,” she said. “She just felt that was her calling. She wanted to be a consistent force and presence in the children’s lives, and she felt she could make a difference there.”

The younger Dr. David said her mother relished opportunities to talk to her young patients during their annual physicals.

“She loved hearing what the children’s dreams and plans and aspirations were,” she said. “She loved hearing how each child had a slightly different goal and what they wanted to be when they grew up.”

The colon cancer diagnosis might have floored others, but Dr. David continued to show up at her practice as much as she could. Her daughter recalled a time when she assisted her mother in the office.

“I would see her with her chemo pump go into the bathroom, vomit because she was nauseous from the chemo, clean herself up, come out, and go see a patient,” she said. “She was a tough woman.”

Mrs. Stoughton said her granddaughter from Kansas City, Missouri, who had been hospitalized several times for a severe medical issue, frequently received gifts and cards from Dr. David. Mrs. Stoughton also remembered a time in the summer of 2016 when she wanted to take her granddaughter to see a specialist from the Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore.

“When I called to make the appointment, I had a very finite piece of time when we could see him, and if you know anything about Hopkins, it’s not easy to see a specialist because they’re so busy,” Mrs. Stoughton said. “But when I called, the person who answered the phone said, ‘Oh yes, Mrs. Stoughton, we have been expecting your call.’ There’s no way in the world that Shanti didn’t pave that way for me and get that appointment for her.

“I told her what happened, and she kind of just smiled and said, ‘Oh well,’ ” Mrs. Stoughton continued. “She never admitted that she did that, but I know that she did that. She had to have. I mean, who else would have been able to do that? She was a quiet force.”

After the deaths of her parents, especially their father, who was lonely without his wife, Dr. David established in 2004 the Alexander Mabel James Community Care Center in the Kanchipuram district of Chennai, India. The facility began focusing on senior citizens, but expanded to serve orphans and the poor.

In addition to gardening and writing poetry, Dr. David’s lifelong passion involved animals. Her family in India owned several chickens, including her favorite rooster named Jackie, and a German shepherd named Bingo who followed Dr. David to school every day.

At home, Dr. David adored a shih tzu named Professor Behr.

“She spoiled him rotten,” her daughter said. “She was convinced he had this gluten allergy because after he would eat bread or pizza crust, he would be more weezy. So she would make sure no one gave him anything gluten.”

Dr. David’s funeral Aug. 19 was at Linden Linthicum. She was buried at St. John’s Cemetery in Ellicott City.

In addition to her husband and daughter, Dr. David is survived another daughter, Mary David of Los Angeles; and four sisters, Hansa Jayakumar of Bethesda, Hema John of Melbourne, Australia, Sheila Mohandass of Auckland, New Zealand, and Caroline Anthony of Lyon, France.

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