There are about 8,350 miles between Bangalore, India and Caro, Michigan — a distance that would take more than 20 hours to complete by plane.
It’s the distance one physician took to become the first doctor some children will ever know.
After 38 years of pediatric service, Dr. Parikshit Kumar of the Tuscola Primary Care is retiring after caring for thousands of children since he began in Tuscola County. By the end of the month, he will no longer practice medicine.
“I feel happy that I was a successful practitioner and when I see other people and they say, ‘hey, you took care of my kids’ — so when I’m getting a positive thanks from them, that makes me happy,” said Kumar, 71.
So why did he end up in Caro?
After completing his residency at Brooklyn Hospital Center in New York in the late 70s, he started looking for a job and came across
Dr. Earl Branding who was working at the Caro Regional Center. Kumar had a child with cerebral palsy, Anand, and at the time the area needed a pediatrician. Kumar came out with his family and received a job working with disabled children. In 1978, he became a pediatrician at Caro Family Physicians in a group practice. But in 2013, he and colleague Dr. Alfonso Ferreira separated from Caro Family Physicians and started Tuscola Primary Care.
“He’s accommodating, very serious about the care of the people and tremendous integrity,” said Ferreira. “Pediatrics is not only taking care of kids, but it’s to be able to communicate — it’s the ability to communicate to the family.”
Pediatrics is the branch of medicine providing medical care of adults 18 to 21 years old, adolescents, children and infants. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are 21,390 pediatrician offices in the country.
Since Kumar came to the area, he’s claimed to work with nearly 1,500 patients and up to 20 percent of those adults brought their children to Kumar as patients.
Kumar said he’s had the privilege of working with children and watching them grow up, developing a relationship with their respective families, and seeing some former patients bring their children back to his practice. Growing up, Kumar said engineering and medicine were the most sought after fields but chose to go into medical school.
Kumar, a native of Bangalore, studied medicine at the Gandhi Medical College in Hyderabad, India where he ranked third in state after graduating in 1968 and one year of pediatric training back home. There he received hands-on style of teaching and trained to listen to his patients, Kumar said because there was not as many medical electronics 50 years ago. Compared to the U.S., a lot of action was taken in the lab to diagnose a patient.
For nearly 40 years, Kumar has seen significant changes in the field for parents and children.
When he first started his practice, he never experienced any no-shows even after the office called parents multiple times.
The other issue has been more parents refusing to immunize their children.
“I don’t put pressure on them,” said Kumar in terms of vaccination. “If they refuse to do it I say that is your choice. I treat all your kids just like my child — I’m trying to help.”
Three years ago, he won the Michigan Childhood Immunization Champion Award that promotes vaccinating and immunizing children.
He also said some social aspects have also affected the field including a lack of physical activity, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in children and depression in adolescents. Battling a mood disorder, like depression, Kumar asks questions before making a diagnosis and instructing the child to go into therapy. If therapy doesn’t work, medication is added.
But small children are a bit different.
In his career, Kumar said he found ways to make children happy and comfortable in the doctor’s office, while others have presented a challenge.
“Most of the children are good but when they are one-and-a-half, two years old, they have temper tantrums so they scream at you, kick you,” said Kumar. “We get used to it.” (Story continues below video)
For Kumar, dealing with children acting out is usually a healthy sign because those who don’t feel well typically will not react in tantrums.
“Sometimes they come and hide in the chair and run around,” recalled Kumar of some incorrigible children.
To get kids on their good side, Kumar said he will play with the children first — then talks to boys about Hot Wheels, G.I. Joe and Lego. His understanding of what girls enjoyed was never as easy as the boys, he explained.
“Girls, now, (it’s) the ‘Frozen’ dolls,” he added. “And dolls. I actually didn’t know what ‘Frozen’ was. One said ‘I want a ‘Frozen’ doll,’ and I said, ‘why do you want such a cold doll?’ I didn’t know ‘Frozen’ was a cartoon movie.”
Kumar had two children of his own: Anand, who died more than 20 years ago and Gururaj, 42, who graduated from Caro High School and now lives in Chicago.
Caro resident Sadie Garza, 31, was a patient of Kumar as a child and after becoming a parent chose to only take her three children, nine-week-old Harrlo, Willow, 4, and Magglio, 2 to Kumar.
The oldest two love Kumar, Garza said. As for Harrlo, she has a deeper relationship with the doctor.
“My youngest child is nine weeks old right now,” Garza explained. “If it wasn’t for him, my child would not be alive.”
Garza did not go into detail concerning her child’s life-threatening incident, but said Kumar took care of the baby.
“He’s not in it for the love of the money, he’s in it for the love of the patient,” she added. “He has a relationship with my children that is unreplaceable.
“We wish him the best of luck. We love him and miss him. I mean, he said that if I ever need a babysitter, he’d be more than willing to watch my kids.”
Tuscola Primary Care’s office manager Yvonne Ferreira said in rural areas, there’s always a need for pediatricians and the area has been fortunate to have Kumar.
“He loves kids, kids love him,” said Ferreira. “It’s a sad time but for the time he’s been (here), he’s been a dedicated pediatrician.
“We just … would like to thank Dr. Kumar. It’s going to be hard for people to find a pediatrician. We appreciate his dedication to the community. It’s going to be different for people to make adjustments at this point.
“He is the most loving, caring … he listens, he’s compassionate, he’s hands-on with the kids. He’s very reassuring if something is wrong that he can fix the problem — he reassures you as a parent everything is going to be OK.”
On his retirement, Garza said she has shared many tears with the doctor, recalling when he’d check on Harrlo “day and night” to make sure she’s OK.
Kumar’s wife Sudha Kumar said of all his achievements, medicine is the best thing he’s ever accomplished.
She said there were times when things were a bit tough because of the long hours Parikshit Kumar put into his practice but other than that, the family’s time in Caro been enjoyable.
When Parikshit Kumar was working, she found friendships with local residents and her sons were involved in various activities like Boy Scouts.
“I think it’s nothing other families don’t go through,” she said. “Difficulties do come, but I think it went quite well. I think coming to Caro was a good thing. I think Caro has been very good to us.”
Caro has been so good to the family, Parikshit Kumar said he has no immediate plans to move upon retirement, but is looking to get involved in local volunteer work.
He has considered reading to children in either Schall or McComb elementary schools. And with the spare time, he and Sudha Kumar will watch more movies — crime dramas and social films.
Of all the things he experienced, he said he will miss the children most; at times wondering if he made the right decision retiring, but admits it’s his time to stop.
“I think the pediatrician is a different breed,” Parikshit Kumar said. “We see them from the newborn ‘til they finish high school, so it is a part of our family. So when the family grows up and leave home, I tell them I’m getting separation anxiety just like when you’re leaving to college.
“I saw so many kids and now I’m leaving you all and retiring. So some of us are very anxious on what to do, and I’m going through the same thing.”
Debanina Seaton is a reporter for The Advertiser and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.