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Tufts alumna Mitra was spirited fighter and healer

Published: Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Updated: Sunday, November 25, 2012 17:11


Courtesy Nicholas Bayhi

Tanya Mitra (LA ‘10) brought joy and energy to the Tufts Tae Kwon Do team. She died suddenly at her home on Nov. 3.

Tanya Mitra (LA ’10), whose joyful energy sparked team spirit at tae kwon do tournaments and whose nurturing personality bonded her to people and medicine, died suddenly at her home on Nov. 3. She was 24.

At Tufts, Mitra double majored in biology and German while excelling on the pre-medical track. She was in her second year of medical school in Newark at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey.

Associate Professor of Biology Philip Starks, Mitra’s faculty advisor at Tufts, said that Mitra decided to become a doctor at a very early age and stood out because of her sincerity and determination in helping others.

“My guess is that not too many of her medical school colleagues had tutored children and parents living in poverty or had volunteered with the aged since before their 12th birthday,” Starks said. “Tanya was a caregiver before she knew that her future job would require it.”

Mitra was born in Morristown, N.J., and while growing up her family moved to other parts of New Jersey and spent three years living in India when Mitra was in middle school.

Matthew Davenport (LA’10), Mitra’s boyfriend, said it was her experience of witnessing widespread poverty and sickness in India that solidified her motivation to pursue a career in medicine.

“In terms of what exact medicine she would get into, she hadn’t picked one yet, but it was going to be out there, in India or in Africa, with Doctors Without Borders or something along those lines,” he said.

Muhammad Qadri (LA ’10), a current Ph.D student in psychology at Tufts and a friend of Mitra’s since high school, said her future as a doctor seemed pre-destined by her innate ability to care for others. 

Qadri recalled a time when Mitra’s father sliced his hand severely and, far from any medical facility or assistance, Mitra calmly took control, stopped the heavy bleeding and potentially saved his life.

A Tufts Debate Society member and Sharewood Project clinic volunteer, as well as tutor and researcher, Mitra only discovered her greatest extracurricular passion during her senior year when she joined the Tufts Tae Kwon Do team.

“Tanya was really a catalyst for transforming the team into a family,” close friend and tae kwon do teammate Nicholas Bayhi said, emphasizing that Mitra epitomized the spirit of the tae kwon do club. “She was always the one who would scream the loudest.”

“We don’t know how, but she would always show up with an ankle brace and another ankle brace and a wrist brace,” Bayhi, a senior, added. “Even though she was plagued with injuries all the time, she would still go in there and fight, and when she couldn’t fight, she would be congratulating other people and cheering everyone on.”

Bayhi recalled Mitra’s first tae kwon do competition, which her parents attended in support. When Mitra was injured in one of the earliest fights of the day, her mother grew concerned and strictly forbade her from participating any further. However, in the middle of the competition, Mitra took a bold stance.

“She looks at her mom and says, ‘No. I have to do this for my team,’” Bayhi said. “We were like, ‘Whoa.’ None of us would have been able to say that to her mother.”

Mike Harb, coach of Tufts Tae Kwon Do, echoed Bayhi’s sentiments.  

“She didn’t want to let the team down, and that was typically her,” Harb said. “When she gave, she gave 100 percent with just so much love.”

After finishing her studies at Tufts, Mitra remained an integral part of the tae kwon do team.

She attended every practice while spending the year after graduation working at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and she continued to return for most weekend practices even after moving to New Jersey for medical school, according to Bayhi.

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