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“Who Is My Neighbor” award presentation by Lora Lea Edwards at St. Paul’s Methodist Church in Cedar Rapids, Iowa on January 21st, 2013 as part of the 14th annual Martin Luther King birthday celebration. The award recipient was Dr. Chirantan Ghosh.
Compassion is a quality greater than courtesy, niceness, or even kindness. It comes from the core of a person, is hard to define on its own terms, but you know it when you see it. The Good Samaritan did more than do a compassionate act but embodied a ‘heart of compassion’ that compelled him to cast cautious self-interest aside and do whatever he could to make the injured whole. He even set up a fund to care for the injured man’s long term care so he would have the best chance to flourish. Dr. Chirantan Ghosh personifies this ‘compassionate heart’ and coupled with a devotion to doing what is right no matter the cost has helped thousands of people in this area and beyond in many diverse ways.
I first met Dr. Ghosh when he offered to come to my parents’ home 45 minutes away from Cedar Rapids. He came with Dr. John Banks, who he considers a brother in medicine and mentor, and sat on the floor at the feet of my long suffering father to offer whatever help he could. He returned multiple times to offer comfort and advice. It became clear to me that he has a universal respect for all religious expressions that people affirm and he is in awe of the power of love in action and the God who created that love. I believe he embodies the knowledge that Love is where peace and purpose reside.
Ghosh was born and raised in Calcutta, India as the 9th of 10 children in a family of modest means. He was educated in India but could not get a job after medical school because only politically connected graduates got jobs and he had led a movement to keep political parties off campus. He came to the US with his brother to complete his residency in Chicago and in 1990 moved to Cedar Rapids with his wife Sima to practice oncology and hematology medicine.
As a genuinely modest man, finding out all the ways Dr. Ghosh helps people requires some detective work. Dr. Banks and Linda Marple were my cohorts in getting information. Joyce Fleming, one of his patients, said, “I came to understand that the concern he has for others is who he is. He will give his all for the benefit of others. He will quietly make things happen to quietly benefit his community. Not for himself but for others. I don’t think any of us will know the complete list of things he has done for the benefit of his patients, his community, and for those of us who have been lucky enough to have crossed his path.” He has helped the community through foundations he has established in the medical community, in education, aid to local humanitarian programs and has always sought to help individuals who “cross his path.” All of the foundations he has established are in his mother’s name Anna Purna Ghosh, who he credits with teaching him to care about the poor and help them.
Some of the ways he is helping people in the medical community are the establishment of nursing scholarships at both Mercy and St. Lukes for outstanding students in oncology. He is founder of the Anna Purna Ghosh Foundation that provides financial assistance to patients with cancer and blood diseases whose medical insurance has capped or not covering their medical needs. He was a key leader in the creation of the Cook Cancer Wellness Center through St. Lukes where cancer patients receive free services for exercise, fitness, nutrition, counseling and family support.
In the education community, Ghosh founded the Anna Purna Ghosh “Project Finish” at Kirkwood which provides scholarships for single mothers working on medicine-affiliated courses of study to complete their degrees.He is founder of the Anna Purna Ghosh endowment Scholarship at Mt. Mercy for students studying unique and rare botanical specimens in Iowa. He is the founder of the Anna Purna Advanced Placement Incentive Program and Scholar Award that has paid for the fees for local high school students taking the advanced placement (AP) courses and tests for college credit. Thousands of students in Cedar Rapids have benefited from this program since it started in 2007. The number of students participating went up 25-37% in two years in the three high schools. He also sponsored a program through Four Oaks Cornerstone to help single mothers with more than one child to receive their nursing degrees. He founded the Anna Purna Ghosh Technology Learning Center in 2001 at the Public Library to offer free computer learning opportunities for the public.
In our community at large he has shown that when he hears of need, he responds. He funded Green Square Meals when it was in financial trouble and going to have to close. He gave $100 gifts to each of the 262 hospital staff between each hospital that were affected by the flood of 2008. In 2010, he funded the entire Sprint Program at St. Paul’s United Methodist Church which is a summer program for disadvantaged upper elementary children in the Wellington Heights neighborhood. In 2009, he found out that people in the downtown area were in need of food. Zion Church organized an outreach program with the help of ten other churches to help 100 families and Dr. Ghosh gave $10,000 for food bags for each family and another $10,000 for the hungry a few months later.
In his native India, he has funded the construction of an Emergency Room for a hospital in Calcutta, a floor of an orphanage, free cataract clinic, support services for safe water, child education, and homeopathic medicine, mobile medical clinic among many other projects.
As a physician who is on a quest to heal the afflicted, Dr. Ghosh practices putting patients first in his efforts to provide the best, most current, and personal care. He sets a very high bar for his standard of medical care and never lets one patient get less than his full attention and studied thought. More than one patient has received a call at night or on a weekend saying he had been going over their chart and thinks there is something he wants to check out or change. He tells patients they are on a journey and he will be there for them to do his best to help them have peace and purpose whatever the outcome. He is quoted in an informal biography by Elizabeth Kutter, “I consider it the highest honor when one of my patients wants me to be with them at the time of their death, I want to take that next step with them.” There is no better neighbor than that.
-Lora Lea Edwards, 2013