American doctor dies after travelling to India to help with Covid

‘It is ironic that we came to India for two weeks and he contracted it here,’ says Dr Rajendra Kapila’s widow

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A decorated American doctor has died of Covid-19 after travelling to India to care for family members, his university has confirmed.

Dr Rajendra Kapila, 81, was an infectious disease expert at New Jersey’s Rutgers University. He died in a Delhi hospital on 28 April after several weeks of treatment for Covid-related complications.

Kapila’s widow Dr Deepti Saxena-Kapila, herself a scientist working on the pandemic, told the Hindustan Times newspaper the couple travelled together to India in the last week of March.

“For the last one year I have been working at a Covid-19 lab in New Jersey and had ensured a safe environment at home,” said Dr Saxena-Kapila, who specialises in microbiology.

“It is ironic that we came to India for two weeks and he contracted it here.”

The newspaper quoted Dr Saxena-Kapila as saying they had both been fully vaccinated with two Pfizer-BioNTech shots, though this was not immediately confirmed by Kapila’s university.

Rutgers University’s chair of the department of medicine Dr Marc Klapholz sent a statement via email to colleagues, which was later also shared online, saying Dr Kapila had been a foundational pillar of the New Jersey Medical School for 50 years.

“A genuine giant in the field of infectious diseases, Dr Kapila was recognised worldwide and sought out for his legendary knowledge and extraordinary clinical acumen in diagnosing and treating the most complex infectious diseases,” the email said. “ He will be deeply and genuinely missed.”

Kapila’s ex-wife, Dr Bina Kapila, said in an interview with ABC News that the doctor, who had underlying conditions of diabetes and heart complications, travelled to India to care for his family.

"He was so brilliant when we were in college, in medical school, that the professors of medicine after they gave a lecture, they would come to him and ask him, ‘did I cover everything?’" she said.

"What can go wrong in one week? So he was only going to go for one week."

Kapila had reportedly planned to return to the US in mid-April but tested positive for Covid-19 on 8 April before he was admitted to Delhi’s Shanti Mukund Hospital, where he died 20 days later.

“Whenever Dr Kapila visited India, he would deliver lectures to fellow doctors at major private hospitals in the city and never said ‘no’ to an opportunity to teach,” Dr Ruby Bansal, of India’s Yashoda Super Speciality Hospital at Kaushambi, told the Hindustan Times.

India is currently undergoing a devastating second wave of coronavirus, and has seen a total of more than 21 million cases and more than 230,000 deaths due to Covid since the pandemic began.

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