Obituary: Purnima Suresh Chaurushiya, M.D.

Grandmother, respected pathologist, artist, cook

Purnima Suresh Chaurushiya, M.D., died at her home in Claremont on March 21, the first day of spring, after a year of battling amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. She was surrounded by her family with a beautiful view through her bedroom window of her beloved garden, where the sycamore tree was just starting to leaf, and the irises, pink jasmine, azaleas, and yellow jessamine had just recently bloomed. Her trusty yellow Labrador sidekick for the past 14 years, Dexter, was curled up by her bed. She was 70 years old.

Purnima was born in Dehra Dun, at the time a small town at the foothills of the Himalayas in northern India, in 1953. She was the eighth of nine children, with her oldest sister born 30 years before her. She grew up with German shepherd dogs, her favorite one named “Lassie,” after the 1950s TV show. “It will surprise no one that Purnima displayed a keen intellect at an early age, and her father encouraged her as she grew older to pursue a career in medicine,” her family shared.

In 1978, she graduated from King George Medical College in Lucknow, India, at the age of 25. Later that year, she met Suresh Chaurushiya through her uncle. “He was an intelligent, curious, adventurous, fun-loving breath of fresh air to whom she was engaged three days later, and married a month afterwards, with their wedding on Christmas Day in 1978,” her family added. Three months later, she moved to Pennsylvania with her new husband and her new degree to start a new life, thousands of miles away from the land she knew.

During her six years in Pennsylvania, she was a very busy woman. She had two children, identical twin daughters born on leap day. While she raised her little girls, she studied for and passed her medical board exams, and began and completed her residency in pathology at Hershey Medical Center. When Suresh received a job opportunity in Southern California in 1985, he drove with the girls across the country while she spent six months finishing her residency before joining them in their new home state. She completed her fellowship in pathology at the University of Southern California.

She moved with her family to Claremont in 1988, when she started her 34-year career at Pomona Valley Hospital Medical Center as a pathologist. “She was known by her colleagues as an incredibly honest, hardworking, smart physician with high expectations for herself and everyone around her,” her family said. She became a friend and confidante to many, and achieved success along the way, rising to president of the medical staff at PVHMC in 2001, the first woman and the first person of color to hold that position.

“While Purnima was a talented physician, she was also a wonderful cook who loved to experiment in the kitchen,” her family said. “Her Thanksgiving dinners were legendary, and each year she would design and prepare a variety of classic Thanksgiving dishes imbued by the flavor profiles of a particular region; her ‘Southern’ turkey was deep fried, her ‘Mediterranean’ turkey was pounded, layered, and rolled with prosciutto, olives, and feta, while her ‘Indian’ turkey was roasted in tandoori spices and accompanied by a curry laced gravy.” In addition, one of her favorite activities was taking part in the annual fundraiser at PVHMC, where she would donate a home cooked five-course dinner party hosted at her home, which became one of the most popular auction prizes over the years.

She was also an infrequent but gifted artist across many mediums (but she particularly liked sketching and painting in oils), and a lover of the outdoors, inspired by the beauty of California. She loved to hike in the eastern Sierra Nevada, adored the California coastline, especially throughout Big Sur, and learned to downhill ski with her kids when she was 35 years old. Her second home was in Mammoth Lakes, where she would sometimes speed up Highway 395 from Claremont on Christmas morning to join her family for the holidays (and her wedding anniversary!) after being on call for work on Christmas Eve. She was also an avid traveler, having visited many locales in Europe and South America – including Patagonia – among others.

“Purnima was a devoted mother, and what she couldn’t provide in quantity she made up for with quality,” her family said. When her daughters’ sixth grade class at Sumner Elementary School was learning about the human body, she brought human organs preserved in formaldehyde to the class, which she had transported herself in the trunk of her car, and taught the class about how the body works. The kids sat for hours, through recess, to listen to her teach. Her favorite note in the thank you card from the kids read, “Dear Dr. C, that was gross. I loved it.”

She had just retired in early 2022 at the age of 68, looking forward to having time to spend with her four grandchildren and to continue traveling the world, when she was diagnosed with ALS a year later. While the disease took away her movement over time, she continued to sketch to try to keep her hands functioning as long as possible. Her last sketch was the coastline in Big Sur, where her family will scatter her ashes, at her request.

She is survived by her husband, Suresh; daughters Mira and Radha; son-in-law Brian; daughter-in-law Kelly; grandchildren Reva, Leo, Avani, and Aiden; and a large, loving extended family throughout California, the U.S., and the world, who lost her far too soon.

Memorial services will be held at 10:30 a.m. Sunday, April 14 at Padua Hills Theatre, 4467 Padua Ave., Claremont, CA 91711.


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