Studying to impress each other kept medical school classmates Erica Traina and Sarat Piduru sharp as they memorized micro-organisms and crammed over cadavers. A friendly rivalry motivated the pair who quickly made the diagnosis: They were in love, and the prognosis was terrific.
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"She challenged me, and still does,'' Sarat said, a Berkeley Prep and Northwestern University grad.
"We're both really competitive," added Erica, a graduate of Plant High and Florida State who still teases Sarat about her slightly higher class rank. "I think it makes us better people and, because we enjoy it so much, makes us better doctors."
By year four at the University of South Florida College of Medicine, they were applying to the National Match residency program as a couple to guarantee training positions in the same city. Sarat chose radiology. Erica wanted to be a pediatrician.
Sarat thought they should explore a new city before settling down near their families.
His mother, pediatrician Suseela, and father Mallik, a vascular surgeon, moved from Hyderabad, India, to the United States for their residency training in 1976 and now practice near their Port Richey home.
A third-generation Tampa native, Erica preferred to stay at USF, close to her parents, Dan and Debra Ragano Traina, and their extensive family.
After interviewing in nine cities, including Tampa, Denver, Dallas and Chicago, the couple ranked Emory University in Atlanta as their first choice, to begin July 2007.
When Emory chose them both, the ecstatic couple planned a dinner celebration with her parents. Or so Erica thought, until she went to pick Sarat up at his condo that March night.
"He wasn't there, but a dozen roses were,'' she said. "And a letter addressed to Miss Erica Traina with instructions to pack a bag and go to the Grand Hyatt Tampa Bay."
This has to be it, she thought, shaking with engagement anticipation.
At the front desk, an envelope addressed to Mrs. Erica Piduru held a key to one of the hotel's casitas. She heard her favorite Keith Urban song as she entered the bungalow. More roses, candles, a digital picture frame slide-show of their life together — and a diamond ring — awaited.
Wedding planning began immediately for May 24, 2008. Everyone shared ideas for blending American and Indian, Christian and Hindu cultures.
"I can't imagine our families getting along any better,'' said Sarat, 26.
"One of the first things I remember about meeting the Piduru family was on a visit to Dallas," said Erica, 28. "We were all talking over each other, music was playing and they had cooked tons of food. It was the exact picture of my Italian family when we get together."
The future doctors would need to tap their study-all-night adrenaline and on-call stamina to enjoy the marathon wedding day, starting at 8 a.m. when the photographers arrived at the Grand Hyatt Tampa Bay. The bridal party gathered, hair and makeup stylists did their magic and Erica donned her first bridal outfit — an ivory, gold and red lengha — for the 11 a.m. Hindu service and brunch at A La Carte Event Pavilion. The newlyweds were especially happy to have Sarat's grandmother Syamala Devi Piduru among the 275 guests.
Back at the hotel that afternoon, hair and makeup redone, Erica dressed for wedding No. 2, slipping into a strapless ivory silk gown with lace train. Sarat switched from a sherwani to a tuxedo and they dashed back to A La Carte for the Christian ceremony and reception at 5:30 p.m.
"Both our families are very large, very loud, big dancers, big eaters,'' Erica said. "One minute everyone was circling to the Italian dance, the tarantella, and the next minute everyone was swinging around to popular Indian dance music."
After their Hawaii honeymoon on Maui — where they just happened to spot stars Pierce Brosnan and Felicity Huffman — the newest Dr. Piduru completed one year of a pediatric residency and decided to transfer into her husband's radiology program in July 2009. Until then, she says, she's learning to cook and thinking about visiting India to meet more relatives.
When the radiologists finish their training in 2013, they look forward to returning to Tampa and bringing their families together on many more happy occasions.
Amy Scherzer can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3332.