Power Couples: Deepali Kumar & Atul Humar

Two of the top transplant infection scientists discuss keeping competition out of their relationship.

Forget the stock market, politics or piracy; medical science is one of the most cutthroat professions in the world. But doctors Atul Humar and Deepali Kumar, both infectious-disease physicians and researchers at the University of Alberta, have a secret: Each other.

As far as they know, they are the only married team in the world working in the area of transplant infections. Don’t let the science fool you; these two are romantics at heart.

“We were at a conference in San Francisco when he proposed to me,” says Dr. Kumar. “We went out for dinner and he bought me a ring, from this guy on the street for about eight dollars. And then he proposed.”
And though he bought her a more “respectable” ring later, she still has the original.

Even though their families knew each other in their native Ottawa, studying infectious diseases was a decision they made independent of each other. They studied in different places – Ottawa, Toronto, San Diego – before marrying and moving to Edmonton, where life is very busy. Both see patients and run research labs; Dr. Humar directs the Alberta Transplant Institute, while she is president-elect of the American Society of Transplantation Infectious Diseases Community of Practice. They also have three kids, all under 10.

“But it’s nice because we’re able to bounce ideas off each other whenever we want. We don’t have to set up a meeting,” says Dr. Kumar. “And that creates a lot of synergy, you have somebody you can constantly talk with about research ideas, what to do next. At home it’s a little more difficult, because we are looking after the kids all evening, but that’s the biggest advantage.”

Even though they work in one of the most competitive professions on the planet, there’s no competition between them.

“Our strength is that we really want the other person to succeed,” Dr. Humar says. “That’s what it takes to make it work. You have to want the other person to succeed even more than you want yourself to succeed.”

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