Dr. Mukul Arya’s path to White Plains Hospital began in an unusual way: he performed a highly specialized surgery here when the Brooklyn-based hospital at which he was then employed couldn’t make it work.
“Maria [Mistretta] had been to see my uncle, who’s also a gastroenterologist with a practice on the Brooklyn/Queens border,” Dr. Arya, newly named WPH’s Director of Advanced Gastroenterology, relates. “He’d done an endoscopy and found a small growth that was benign, but to be safe he referred her to me for a follow-up.”
Solving the algebraic problem that arose with Maria’s insurance, and what Dr. Arya and the hospital accepted, proved to be complicated. The specialist ultimately offered to perform the follow-up procedure, an endoscopic submucosal dissection (ESD), pro bono, but warned that the surgery itself would still be costly.
ESD is a minimally invasive outpatient process that uses a flexible, tube-like tool called an endoscope to remove precancerous and cancerous areas in the gastrointestinal tract. Due to the high level of training involved, few surgeons in the U.S. are qualified to perform the procedure.
An ESD is ideal for removing tumors of the esophagus, stomach or colon that have not yet entered the deeper layer of the GI wall, with minimal or no risk of cancer spreading; with more advanced cases, the procedure can help determine the cancer level to develop treatment plans.
Even after waiving his fee, Dr. Arya says, the surgery itself can be costly. Maria’s daughter Marianna “was very proactive,” he notes, “and she got her mother’s insurance changed to something that I accepted – but that the hospital did not.”
“It was frustrating,” Maria’s daughter Marianna, speaking on behalf of her mother, said about the insurance impasse. “But Dr. Arya was very understanding, and really worked with us.”
Aware of White Plains Hospital’s reputation, the doctor’s next step was to suggest Maria, a Queens resident, travel there. Why not another hospital in nearby Brooklyn, Queens or even Manhattan? “My cousin, who lives in Yonkers, said White Plains was an excellent institution,” he says, “so I got in touch and pretty easily secured the surgical privileges necessary to perform the procedure.”
Dr. Arya says he discussed the situation with “everyone from (WPH president and CEO) Susan Fox on down. Maria and I were treated like royalty, and the GI nurses were terrific. The ESD had never been done here before, so they watched several videos in preparation. On April 18 – roughly four-and-a-half months after my uncle sent her to me – we finally did the surgery.”
The final pathology showed “a superficial cancer,” he says, “but if we’d continued to wait, it’s hard to say what might have happened.”
Maria now only needs to have a follow-up endoscopy – “no chemo, no surgery,” the doctor says – to make sure she’s in good health.
“We weren’t all that familiar with White Plains Hospital before,” Marianna admits. “But Dr. Arya was so kind and professional that going there was a pretty easy decision. And everything really went great.”
That Dr. Arya is the only Westchester-based surgeon, and one of a small group across the U.S., qualified to conduct an ESD is, he says, “because of the high level of training. It was developed in Japan, where you need five years of training. We do things a little more from the hip” in the States, he says, “but you have to go and train on animals at various training facilities and courses that are set up around the country.”
Estimating that he’s probably conducted “300 to 400” ESDs, Dr. Arya says he’s looking forward to offering the service at his new healthcare home.
It’s “a highly effective procedure,” he says, noting that its outpatient basis offers less pain, as well as a quicker recovery, than is usually experienced with open or laparoscopic surgical operations.
Spicing It Up Away from the OR
In addition to his stellar reputation as a GI specialist, Dr. Arya has also executive-produced the Indian made-for-TV crime thriller Line of Descent, starring Brendan Fraser, and is especially proud of being a restaurateur.
“I don’t care who you are of where you’re from – everyone’s gotta eat!” he enthuses. “That’s one of the ways we interact with each other, by breaking bread together.”
Founder and co-owner of Greenwich Village artisanal restaurant Rahi (“traveler” in Hindi), the doctor says he’s been gratified both by reviews – including raves from The New York Times and Time Out New York – and the clientele, which has included some boldface names.
“I walked in one day and there was Salman Rushdie sitting in the back with a companion,” he recalls. “Sarah Jessica Parker, who lives in the West Village, loves Indian good and comes in at least once a month.
“And Malala Yousafzai (the Pakistani activist for women education and Nobel Peace Prize laureate who survived a 2017 assassination attempt) was once here, surrounded by a who’s who in the business world,” he continues. “Here – in our restaurant!”