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Dr.Sujatha Reddy: Health fair angel

By Mahadev Desai Email By Mahadev Desai
December 2009
Dr.Sujatha Reddy: Health fair angel Over 300 EKGs, over 150 vision and glaucoma screenings, over 50 bone density tests, and over 340 blood tests. These are the statistics from just the most recent SAI Health Fair—a charitable forum providing free and low cost medical services to the poor, uninsured, and the underinsured. Multiply these numbers by 23—the number of health fairs held so far—and you get close to the number of folks who are indebted to the generosity and spirit of Dr. Sujatha Reddy, the driving force behind these health fairs.

In a time when almost everyone agrees that health care is a major concern for so many Americans, what better way to serve the needy? And who better to do it? The traditionally dressed, bespectacled, self-effacing Reddy may look frail but is a powerhouse of energy. For many of the uninsured, Reddy is a lifesaver—sometimes literally. Several of the thousands of tests performed at the health fairs have alerted its patrons of impending life-threatening diseases.

Simple in her personal lifestyle, she is prolific in her public commitments. Professionally, Reddy is a psychiatrist at River Edge Behavioral Health Center in Macon, Georgia. Shannon Harvey, CEO of the facility, is all praise for Reddy, whom she describes as a passionate advocate of the holistic care of patients.

A demanding professional career and an impeccable commitment to the cause of the health fairs would be a handful for most; but Reddy also finds time and energy to be a dynamo at the Hindu Temple of Atlanta (HTA), where she serves as a trustee. Reddy feels, and patrons of the temple might agree, that the temple is her second home. Dr. P. Ravi Sarma, a former president of the HTA, describes Reddy as one who is “fully committed to any task that she undertakes.” Never one to shy away from service and good causes, Reddy also serves on the Board of Directors at the Gandhi Foundation of USA.

The seeds of compassion were sown in Reddy from her childhood. Born in rural Andhra Pradesh, she frequently accompanied her deeply religious parents to the Thirupathi temple where she learnt about service and compassion in a spiritual atmosphere. In 1971 she graduated from Kurnool Medical College in Andhra Pradesh. During those years, Reddy excelled in sports. She was school champion in field events for four consecutive years, and won a tennis doubles championship at the university level. After completing her postgraduate training in obstetrics and gynecology in Hyderabad, she married Mohan Reddy, an electrical engineer by profession.

After moving to the United States with her husband in 1973, Reddy completed her residency at the University of Birmingham in 1980. Reddy decided she would be able to do justice to raising two boys by switching to a specialty with some flexible hours, and decided in following her interest in psychiatry.

Even as they established their American lives, Reddy had been acutely aware of and bothered by the lack of health insurance that many Indian immigrants were facing. Inspired by her inner voice, she resolved to do whatever was within her reach. In 2002, her resolve took shape in the form of SAI Health Fair. The name stands for “Selflessness, Awareness, and Integrity.”

The fairs now average over 400 attendees who avail themselves of blood tests (nominal priced at $15 each), free EKGs, audio and vision screenings, bone density tests, as well as consultations with specialists in cardiology, internal medicine, ENT, gastroenterology and more. Despite the charitable nature of the enterprise and reliance on volunteers, the results of the blood work are mailed within 48 hours. And if a test reveals a life-threatening condition, the patient is informed immediately. Reddy understands the importance of preventive medicine, so she arranges for education on diabetes, smoking, physical fitness, hypertension and nutrition.

Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin graced the fifth SAI Health Fair held in the MLK Jr. Historic Preservation District in April 2004, which was a resounding success. Messages of appreciation, good wishes and support were received from the Georgia Governor, Sonny Purdue and the late Mrs. Coretta Scott King.

The fairs offer medical help with compassion, courtesy and dignity to all who attend. Not surprisingly, SAI health fairs have gained recognition and momentum in the community. In the process Reddy has built a network of dedicated physicians, nurses, technicians and volunteers who give of their time and talent for the worthy cause. From high school students to physicians with thriving practices, Reddy has roped in many with her contagious enthusiasm for the mission. She has also forged relationships with organizations such as Gandhi Foundation of USA, the Hindu Temple of Atlanta in Riverdale, Georgia, Telugu Association of Metro Atlanta, Vishwa Hindu Parishad of America, and Gujarati Samaj of Atlanta, who have all collaborated with her to make the health fairs possible.

There have been instances when Reddy has gone out of her way to help new arrivals in Atlanta seeking urgent medical help. At a recent fair, in a brief appreciation ceremony, Vishnu Maya, an elderly refugee from Bhutan was profuse in her praise for Reddy whom she presented with a shawl—a gesture of high honor—for Reddy’s role in arranging for an urgent eye surgery that prevented Maya from going blind. Reddy was able to arrange that by contacting Dr. Indira Menon and Dr. Deepa Nagarajan who graciously provided their service for the cause.

“Service to humanity is service to God” has been Reddy’s guiding mantra. Not one to care for praise, recognition or awards, she nevertheless attracts them in plenty. Among them is the Hindu Vibhushan Award received in 2001 from the Hindu Leaders Forum, a voluntary U.S. organization. Reddy was the third recipient and its first female winner. The previous two winners of this award were the Prime Ministers of Trinidad and Surinam respectively. In 2003, she was honored with the Gandhi Humanitarian Award from the Atlanta-based Gandhi Foundation of USA. In November of this year the Kurnool Medical College Alumni of North America (KMC-ANA), an organization with more than 800 members, felicitated Reddy for “dedicated and untiring community service through SAI Health Fairs.”

The Reddys have two sons—Shyam Reddy, 35, an attorney who also had a promising run for the position of the Secretary of State in 2006, and Sai Prasad Reddy, a Director of Real Estate with Petrus Brands, a holding company for popular brands of food franchises.

With its free medical services and outreach to the disabled, aged, and needy, the SAI Health Fair is a shining beacon of hope for the community. Inspired by her success and contribution, Reddy has already received inquiries for branching out the health fairs to Salk Lake City, Utah. Even within the metro Atlanta area, she gets many requests for more health fairs but is constrained by time and resources. But if it were up to her, no one without health insurance would go without free medical treatment.

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