Altoona Regional family physician Dr. Sabesan "Saby" Karuppiah said after growing up around poverty and suffering in India, he realized it was his duty in life to help people.
Karuppiah moved from Sri Lanka to India at the age of 6, where he spent the rest of his childhood.
"I come from a country where patients did not get the right care, and people were underserved," he said.
Mirror photo by J.D. Cavrich
From left to right: Dr. Kendall DeFreitas, Saint Francis University Physician Assistant student intern Kayla Patton, Dr. Joseph Hines, Dr. Saby Karuppian and patient David Tetter of Hollidaysburg talk in a room at Altoona Regional Health System, Altoona Hospital campus.
Karuppiah said although he had a great childhood, he knows others around him were not as fortunate.
"I saw a lot of suffering and poor people who didn't have much," he said. "I always wanted to help them but never knew what to do."
Karuppiah saw a lot of things he will never forget while working at a hospital in South Bronx, N.Y., and making house calls there. He said he was the first to make house calls, even though his director told him it was not a good idea.
"Nobody wanted to go out and make the house calls, because they were just afraid," he said.
Despite his optimism, what he experienced eventually changed his mind.
"Buildings were damaged, bugs were crawling on the walls, and you could see bullet marks on the staircase," he said of a few apartments he visited before deciding to stop seeing patients at home.
Karuppiah is a fellow of the American Academy of Family Physicians and will be trained this year to be an Emerging Leadership fellow of the Society of Teachers of Family Medicine. He is also a member of the Pennsylvania Academy of Family Physicians and the Pennsylvania Medical Society.
In 2008, Karuppiah received the "Tomorrow's Leader" Award from the American Academy of Family Physicians. In 2009 he also received the American Medical Association Foundation's Leadership Award.
"The best part of my job is working with residents and medical students," Karuppiah said.
Karuppiah said teaching has helped him become a better doctor overall.
"I was in their shoes not too long ago, so I try to be a real advocate for students and residents," he said.
Karuppiah said he looks forward to July when the new residents and students come to the hospital.
"The best part of being a physician is working with different types of learners," he said.
Karuppiah recently became one of three new members of the American Medical Association International Medical Graduates Section Governing Council, where he will help to set policies and make recommendations to the AMA.
"We are the voices for all these doctors," he said, noting that 25 percent of doctors in America are from foreign countries. "We speak for all international medical doctors in the country."
Aside from his work as a physician, Karuppiah spends time doing research. At the moment he is focusing his research on the use of electronic medical records instead of paper.
"I'm trying to find out if the switch from paper to electronic medical records improves the patient's satisfaction, care and perception," he said, noting that he has a research grant to study this.
Karuppiah also enjoys playing tennis three times a week, playing with his son and being with his family.
"I am very self-motivated," he said of balancing his activities, work and family. "If I set a goal, I will do it."
Dr. Donald Beckstead, who is the head of the residency program at Altoona Regional, said that the residents have enjoyed working with Karuppiah.
"He has really helped us enhance our evidence-based teaching approach," Beckstead said. "He has given us a fresh approach to some of the teaching techniques that we use."
Beckstead described Karuppiah as energetic and easy to get along with.
He said because Karuppiah grew up in a different country and has worked in different cities, that has given the staff at Altoona Regional more of a global health view on things.
"He's been an excellent addition to our residency teaching staff," Beckstead said, "and he's helped us to remain cutting edge in our teaching program."