Anesthesiologist Vivian Porche, M.D., could be considered the Texas Medical Center’s very own Mary Poppins and now her daughter Bobbi is following in her high-flying footsteps.
Bobbi, 28, will graduate from McGovern Medical School at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) in May, just like her mom did 33 years ago. The similarities don’t end there because she has chosen the same specialty of anesthesiology.
“I always wanted to be a doctor. But I thought anesthesia was boring and because my mom did that, it was last on my list. Then I felt an unexplainable joy when intubating for the first time in a simulation lab,” Bobbi said. “I started this journey with the aim of making kids not as afraid of going to the doctor as I was. Anesthesiology is a great way to do this because you learn how to ease people’s pain and fear. I love kids, so I try to put them at ease by really empathizing with their situation and having a joke.”
Behind Bobbi’s beaming smile, there’s her own story of blood, sweat and tears. At just 4 years old, she was struck with pneumonia.
“My mom knew something was wrong and took me to the doctor. But because I was running around and not acting sick, they sent me home,” she said. “That night I got really sick and the next thing I remember was being in an emergency room.”
It turned out to be a rare and very severe case of infection, causing an abscess that required emergency surgery. The hardest part for Vivian was not being able to treat her own daughter.
Bobbi said: “They let her start my IV line, and then that was it. I got so upset because I was too young to understand why she wasn’t allowed to help me.”
After two weeks in the hospital she made a full recovery. Her interest in medicine grew five years later when her grandmother Bobbye, her namesake, was diagnosed with breast cancer.
“The breast cancer later spread to her pancreas. I really admired her doctors but it bothered me I couldn’t help. That marked the start of my journey,” Bobbi said.
Through the challenges of medical school, she was always able to lean on her mother.
“The process of becoming a doctor is long and hard – nothing quite prepares you for the struggle. But I’ve been very fortunate to have excellent teachers, awesome classmates and, most importantly, my mom’s amazing support,” Bobbi said. “When I was tired and crying, she picked me up and said, ‘You’ve got this.’ I owe her so much – I simply wouldn’t have made it without her.”
Passionate about helping young people, Bobbi has served as president of the Student National Medical Association and she mentors children from disadvantaged communities. Bobbi will officially graduate May 18 at a ceremony in George R. Brown Convention Center before she embarks on her residency at Baylor College of Medicine, as Vivian did back in 1985.
Vivian’s own path to success was also inspired by her mother, Bobbye Jean Harris, who was principal of MacArthur Elementary School in Third Ward.
“She instilled in me compassion and the importance of hard work. I always wanted to help people and make them better,” Vivian said. “Becoming a doctor is an ordeal but she was there to spur me on and help me believe in myself. Nothing good comes easily.”
After completing her anesthesia residency at Baylor College of Medicine and a cardiovascular anesthesiology fellowship at Methodist Hospital, Vivian went on to finish a pediatric anesthesiology fellowship at Texas Children’s Hospital. She joined the Department of Anesthesiology and Perioperative Medicine at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, where she rose through the ranks to become director of the acute pain service, the Proton Therapy Center’s first medical director of anesthesia and her current position, professor in the Department of Anesthesiology and Perioperative Medicine.
No stranger to impressive accolades, Vivian was the first African-American female faculty member at MD Anderson to be promoted to professor and she was named the 2012 Distinguished Alumnus/a of McGovern Medical School. She mentors and teaches residents and fellows from McGovern Medical School, as well as being active in the National Medical Association, having also served as the immediate past chair of the anesthesia section.
Despite the string of formal titles, Vivian still enjoys nothing more than cracking jokes and singing to her patients.
She said: “ ‘Mary Poppins’ is my favorite – I sing ‘Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious’ or ‘A Spoonful of Sugar!’ We’re all children at heart, so I try to take everyone back to that happy place of feeling safe and loved. If a patient stays calm, the whole anesthetic procedure works better.”
On top of her busy schedule with work and family, Vivian still makes time to give back and go to church. She volunteers as an ambassador, delivering presentations to schools, health fairs, clinics and community groups across the city. In recognition of this work she has been a recipient of the IMPACT award from Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church.
“My faith has always been a source of inspiration and hope. I feel so blessed,” Vivian said. “I just wish my mom was able to be part of all this because she’s the reason we have both come so far. As the poem goes, ‘Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair’ but she kept encouraging us to aim high and stick at it,” she said.
Bursting with pride and struggling to hold back the tears, Vivian cannot wait to see her daughter graduate and be rewarded for all her hard work.
“Education is key and McGovern Medical School offers the very best. I’m over the moon about Bobbi’s achievements. Words can’t describe how grateful I am – it’s like walking in a dream,” she said. “Having been through med school myself, I know how tough it gets and there are always knockbacks and moments of self-doubt. But as long as you pick yourself up and persevere, you can achieve anything. Like mamma would say, ‘Take your lemons and make lemonade!’ ”
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