Altamont | Beecher City | Dieterich | Effingham | St. Anthony | Teutopolis
Face-to-Face With a Lucky Guy.
Dr. Mike Nayak, Plastic Surgeon Effingham High School, '90
Mike Nayak, EHS, ’90, is a remarkable guy. And, by his own admission, a lucky guy. He is a grateful husband, an engaged father, and an extraordinary professional success. But he’s also a good friend, a former Whiffenpoof (more on that later), a bit of a jokester, and a man who knows his way around the kitchen. And it’s no surprise, really. “Growing up in Effingham,” Mike says, “gave me an amazing range of opportunity. I was very fortunate to have parents who felt so strongly about education as well as some really good teachers who inspired me.” He learned about friendship, loyalty, hard work, decency, and fair play in this rural Illinois community of 14,000. He was able to cultivate his interests in digital media, computer science, logic, psychology, and more, through night classes he was able to take at Lake Land College when he was just twelve years old. He tells me he was able to accrue more than 20 hours of college credit because of the school’s willingness to be flexible, and accommodating of a twelve-year-old’s interests. He points out that this was not done with any intention of shaving time off post-secondary college endeavors, but was simply a means by which he could formally explore some of his interests. He credits the late Craig Lindvahl as one of his inspirational influences and someone to whom he traces his love of music and musical performance. He very fondly recalls Mrs. Vera Kepler, crediting her for his present-day appreciation of art, and he tells me he uses his high school Spanish, taught by Tracy Tuman, on a regular basis. Musical theatre at EHS, not only inspired, said Mike, but also imbued him with a kind of confidence and ‘grace-under-pressure’ that serves him well in virtually everything he’s done in life since high school. “There were and are incredibly rich opportunities in Effingham, and I was super fortunate to have been able to take advantage of them.”
After high school, Mike attended Yale as an undergrad and was part of the storied collegiate a cappella tradition known as ‘The Whiffenpoofs.’ This is the famous Yale vocal group that has been performing since the Taft administration. Each year, 14 Yale seniors are selected to be ‘Whiffs’ and, in 1994, Mike was one of them. This group performed concerts all over the country and even overseas, so this — once again — presented Mike with tremendous opportunity not easily replicated elsewhere. He is very clear-eyed and humble in his realization of the opportunities he’s had. But, without question, this is a man who has also worked very hard to make the most of each opportunity placed before him.
The family had relocated from upstate New York in the mid-seventies, where his father had just completed his residency in urology. Mike was three. Effingham turned out to be a real gem overlooked by the elder Nayak’s East Coast medical school peers and, here, the hardworking Nayak family found accommodating soil for their new roots. His mother, too, was in private practice with Dr. Huellskoetter in Altamont until 1978 when Mike’s brother, Raj, was born. He didn’t know it at the time, but a chance encounter with an injured, unconscious motorcyclist in an Illinois cornfield may have determined Mike’s professional arc. He was just 16-years-old, out driving with friends when they noticed the out of place, still lit taillight of the motorcycle wreckage and its rider in the darkness more than a hundred feet from the roadbed. As the boys scrambled toward the man, adrenaline racing, none were armed with any kind of experience to prepare them for what they would find. The man was alive and spontaneously breathing, but had serious facial injuries. They hurriedly dashed to a friend’s house, nearby, to call for help. Mike was deeply concerned for the man’s wellbeing but couldn’t shake the sight of these facial injuries and imagined how they would alter the man’s life upon recovery from his other injuries. It was a watershed moment.
Fast forward to 2004, as Mike is completing his training as a Fellow — the process of further specialization within a medical specialization following a Residency. An admired professor utters the eminently quotable words, “Live your life like an electron; follow the path of least resistance.” This is not about taking the easy path. This is about walking through sensible doorways. It’s about not wasting time or energy battering down doors, which are firmly shut. For Mike, after his time at Yale, that doorway had been Medical School at Washington University in Saint Louis followed by a Residency at Harvard. Whether these doorways were opened by a chance encounter with an injured motorcyclist in a field 16-years earlier or the result of incremental adjustments to his trajectory is hard to say, but it led him to the field of facial cosmetic surgery. Mike has helped thousands of patients with everything from severe facial disfigurement to classic rhinoplasties and chin implants. In 1999, 5 years before he’d even completed his training, he purchased the domain for AvaniDaySpa.com. His vision for what he would do, professionally, was already in play.
Today, he and his wife, Avani, have realized that vision through their highly regarded and much sought after work. The Nayak’s practice is routinely rated as the top plastic surgery provider in the St. Louis metropolitan area, but that’s not the half of it. Patients routinely fly-in from Dallas, New York, Chicago, Atlanta, and even L.A., perhaps the plastic surgery capital of America. And there’s a good reason for that. Mike knows his stuff— he REALLY knows his stuff. He is an innovator in the craft, a leader among leaders in his field, and someone with much more than the requisite medical background to perform surgery. He is someone with extraordinary interests and commensurate skills which he has been cultivating since he was a 12-year-old boy stretching his mind through night classes at Lake Land College in Effingham. He is an artist, an educator, a surgeon, a comforter, a strategist, and a person genuinely committed to serving people. He is, in a very real sense, the sum total of all who lent him their shoulders upon which to stand as he strived to see further, a good number of them, Effinghamians.
Mike sees life alternately through a very practical lens and a sophisticated, even philosophical one. Both lenses serve him well, and when I ask him for the words of wisdom he might share with his own children, ages 15 and 18, he reminds me about his professor’s electron theory, and says that he would encourage them to follow their interests and live in the present — that 80% of their energy should be spent on the next few days; that to dwell too much in the past can cause depressive feelings. But that living too far into the future can create false optimism often tinged with a kind of anxiety. “Every phase of life has its difficulties and its delights,” he tells me, “But every season has its merits too. Enjoy them all, I would tell them.”
From his beginnings in Effingham, Mike has made a positive dent in the world, but in his own words, it would not have been possible without the substantial foundation he was given in Effingham.