Women Who Inspire: Surekha Murti-Fehr

St. Jude patient Surekha Murti-Fehr has found her own way to pay it forward.

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Women who Inspire: Surekha Murti-Fehr

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Surekha Murti-Fehr was just 2 when she was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Her earliest memories are of her treatment at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital®, losing her hair and watching television with her father, Gopal Murti, Ph.D., the retired director of Scientific Imaging at St. Jude

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She was in treatment for five years.  

Since her treatment for cancer, she finished school, got married and had children. And she never forgot the gift of life she was given at St. Jude

She had thought about becoming a doctor and wanted to work at St. Jude. But life had other plans. She met her husband while an undergraduate in East Tennessee. They married after she earned a doctorate in physical therapy and settled down there.  

“I really like physical therapy because of the one-on-one you have with the patients,” said Surekha.

She went to work at a private practice helping orthopedic patients with a broad range of musculoskeletal conditions. 

But, during the pandemic the certified lymphedema therapists left the practice where she works.

Women who Inspire: Surekha Murti-Fehr

A certified lymphedema therapist works with patients experiencing swelling of the lymph system, which helps the body fight infections. Her boss asked her if she’d train for that work and promised that if she didn’t like it, she could return to orthopedics. 

It was fine, Surekha said, but she wasn’t really “digging it.”

Then a local medical provider asked if she could recommend a lymphedema therapist for their patients. She said she’d take them. 

They sent her cancer patients.

“Basically, it turned into my whole profession. So, now my practice is only treating breast cancer patients every single day. It’s really cool,” Surekha said. “Something I didn’t think I was going to like at all turned into this and now my dream of helping cancer patients has finally come full circle.” 

Gopal and his wife, Aruna Murti, are proud parents, but they will never forget how worried they were.

“When she got leukemia, it just killed me. I did not think she was going to survive,” Gopal said. 

Today, ALL patients treated at St. Jude have a 94% survival rate. That number was significantly lower when Surekha was diagnosed in the early 1980s.

After her treatment, her parents were told to watch for side effects from the treatment that could impact her physical development and delay her intellectual development. They warned her teachers, too, Gopal said. 

Instead, Surekha flourished.

“I still worry about her even now,” Gopal said. “But I keep it all secret. What she has done is remarkable. Surekha has done exceptionally well at everything.” 

He has three daughters and four grandchildren, but Surekha is special.

Women who Inspire: Surekha Murti-Fehr

“I love all my children, but Surekha is my jewel,” he said. 

Surekha and her college sweetheart, Robert, have two children, 9-year-old Mohan and a 6-year-old Jaya. Her children know she had cancer, but they’re still too young to fully understand what that means.

She doesn’t watch them like a hawk, worried about cancer. But her parents do. 

“We do. We watch everybody, the neighbors’ kids, any kid that we know we always watch,” Gopal said.

Surekha no longer lives in Memphis, but said if she were home, she’d want to work at St. Jude

St. Jude saved my life,” she said.

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