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Shamkant Mulgaonkar

Indian-born urologist Shamkant Mulgaonkar was honoured with the American Dream Award by the International Institute of New Jersey. Mulgaonkar came to US in 1977.

india Updated: Jan 06, 2004 22:14 IST
Vasantha Arora (Indo-Asian News Service)
Vasantha Arora (Indo-Asian News Service)

Indian-born urologist Shamkant Mulgaonkar was honoured with the American Dream Award by the International Institute of New Jersey.

The institute, which has helped immigrants from many countries, including India, marked its 85th anniversary by honouring immigrant and native-born individuals who lived the American dream and sought to bring people together.

Mulgaonkar's success story is like so many of the Indian immigrants who made it good in the US. But what is unique about him is that he, as chief of the Saint Barnabas Health Care System Renal Transplant Centres, established the centre as the fifth most active kidney transplant programme in the US, say International Institute sources.

Mulgaonkar, MD, came to Saint Barnabas Medical Centre in 1977 with only a few dollars. He traces his desire to become a physician to the long letters his father sent him when he was a boy of 13 in Pune.

Studying under a Fulbright Scholarship for a year in Wisconsin, the senior Mulgaonkar sent weekly letters about American life in the early 1960s to his oldest son.

"My father's letters were not about the prosperous life Americans enjoyed, but about the people -- how the society cared for each other and their principles and ethics in work and life," he remembers. "While I was living in a society riddled with caste systems he taught me that ours is a human caste. There is no other (caste distinction) when you are focused on helping another human being."

Graduating from Byramjee Jeejeebhoy Medical College in Pune, India, Mulgaonkar travelled to the US, landing in New Jersey with plans to work and study. He struggled to make ends meet with meagre earnings from a few odd jobs.

A discouraged young Mulgaonkar was preparing to return home when he met with Jamsheed Najmi, MD, now an attending physician at Saint Barnabas Medical Center and who, at the time, was a surgical resident and had been one of Mulgaonkar's second year medical school professors. Mulgaonkar was soon offered his opening opportunity - a position as a medical intern.

Thrilled with the appointment and the housing that went with it, Mulgaonkar was desperate for his first payroll cheque. He lived on coffee and water for days until he met Najmi in the cafeteria.

"I was ashamed that I couldn't afford to buy lunch for this man," Mulgaonkar recalls. The older gentleman suspected his predicament and offered help. In return for the assistance he received during those lean days, Mulgaonkar and his wife, Ujwala, have reached out to others from India and elsewhere on their way to making a life in the US.

"New Jersey has been, and continues to be, one of the most welcoming places for newcomers," says Nicholas Montalto, executive director of the International Institute.

"It is here, in the shadow of the Statue of Liberty, that some of the most dramatic episodes in the saga of immigrant America have played themselves out."

Robin Whitely, the institute's board president, said: "We believe that by celebrating these accomplished individuals, we are also celebrating the struggle of immigrants to make a better life for themselves and their families."

Founded in 1918, the International Institute of New Jersey is committed to helping people in transition from one society to another, and to preserving America's diverse cultural heritage.

Last year, through its 27 programmes and projects, the institute assisted 5,200 clients from more than 50 countries to become more self-sufficient, contributing members of American society.

First Published: Jan 03, 2004 00:00 IST

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