It's been a busy 2013 for Carthage Dr. Sitaraman Subramanian.
The specialist in internal medicine and pulminary diseases has continued his own practice and won Mercy McCune-Brooks Hospital's Humanitarian of the Year award, all while battling his own illnesses and awaiting a kidney transplant.
Dr. Sub, as he's known to friends and patients, will be headed to Barnes Jewish Hospital in St. Louis as soon as he gets the word that a kidney is available.
“I've been diabetic for many years and I've had high blood pressure,” Subramanian said. “The combination of that got my kidney. I'm in kidney failure and I'm listed at Barnes Jewish Hospital for a possible transplant. As soon as I get a call from Barnes, I'll have to take off. Doctors are human beings, they get sick too.”
A career in Carthage
Subramanian has practiced medicine in Carthage for more than 31 years.
He grew up in southern India and got his medical degree from a university in Bihar state in northern India.
He moved to America in 1973 and trained and worked in Cleveland for one year and Philadelphia for another year before settling in Southwest Missouri at what was the Mount Vernon State Chest Hospital in 1975.
He came to Carthage in 1982 when then-hospital administrator Jim McPheeters convinced him to make the move.
In Carthage he and his wife, Sara, raised three daughters, Manju, Kala and Maya. All were good tennis players, like their dad and mom, and all were either valedictorian or salutatorian of their respective classes at Carthage High School.
“This town is very friendly,” Subramanian said. “In those days it was difficult to raise kids here, but they all did very well, even though they were kind of different ethnic background. They really got along well with the other kids. I think the sports helped a lot, being a tennis players. And they were academically number one and number two.”
Creating a program
Pam Barlet, director of community relations at Mercy McCune-Brooks Hospital, has worked with Subramanian for as long as he's been at the Carthage hospital.
Barlet said Subramanian could be considered “the father of our pulminary program.”
“He started the pulminary program,” Barlet said. “And, really, before Sub, we didn't have pulminary function testing, bronchoscopy, we had ventilators, but he set up our ventilator program. Anything to do with pulminary services, Sub started it. We've done a lot of education. He's done a lot of programs. He did education with our nurses and our staff. We didn't have a clue, he'd tell you stuff like the lungs are almost as big as a tennis court if you spread them out. Little things like that, he really just did a lot of education.”
Page 2 of 2 - Subramanian said pulminologists see a lot of different lung problems in people, but two of the most common, Chronic Obstructive Pulminary Disorder, or COPD, and lung cancer, are also almost entirely self-inflicted.
“Ninety-nine percent of all COPD cases are related to smoking,” Subramanian said. “Even though the focus is on cardiac issues and breast cancer issues, COPD is going to be the number 1 killer, but nobody pays attention to that problem as much as coronary artery disease or cancer. The majority of the lung cancers I see, and I see about two or three lung cancers a month by doing scope, and I seldom see lung cancer without smoking. The primary lung cancers are related to smoking.”
Barlet said Subramanian is happiest when he hears that his worked helped someone feel better.
“He made an impact on their lives that's real,” Barlet said. “Without treatment and education, those people are just debilitated and he can impact that through education, through medication, through rehab and he started all those programs. That's when I would see him the happiest, he would tell me about a patient, when I made rounds with him or something, and he would say 'they can do this and they can do that.'”
Subramanian and his wife, Sara, said his illness has also focused their attention on the need for people to be aware of the life-saving potential of organ transplants.
Sara Subramanian said her husband is one of hundreds of people on waiting lists for kidneys, a list that could be shortened if people would look at the back of their drivers license and sign the form giving permission to donate organs in case of an accident.
Needing a transplant makes one appreciate how important it is to sign the back of a drivers license,” Sara Subramanian said. “There are so many accidents out there and so many potential transplants that don't happen. I think awareness really is the key.”