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Movers And Shakers In Medicine - Dr. Purnima Sangal

Dr. Manju Sheth

( In this edition of Movers and Shakers in Medicine we present an amazing Gynecologist  and a community leader who has  worked tirelessly to support the Health and Wellness cause in India and the US, Dr. Purnima Sangal. She has an inspiring personal story and has faced tremendous personal challenges which she has dealt with determination, faith and courage.)

When the going gets tough, the tough get going.  For Dr. Purnima this has been the central theme of her life.  A brilliant Obstetrician and Gynecologist, her focus in life has been to excel in everything she does and serve her clients and the community to the best of her ability.

A Board Certified Gynecologist and first surgeon to perform Robotic surgery in Merrimack Valley, Dr. Purnima was trained in general surgery in New York and completed her residency in OB/GYN at Hahnemann University in Philadelphia. Her professional expertise is in the areas of minimally invasive treatment of Gynecological conditions with Hysteroscopy, Laser and "Scarless" Laparoscopy, Robotic-assisted surgeries and procedures for urinary incontinence and utero-vaginal prolepse.  She is also an expert in  "in-office" procedures such as Tubal Occlusion, Endometrial Ablation and LEEP etc. Dr. Purnima served as Chief of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Lowell General Hospital, Lowell.  She has lead and participated in various committees and subcommittees of the hospital.

One of five children, her first schooling was in a village under a tree. “My father was a sugarcane inspector. We had limited money and resources but plenty of love, values and support. My mother was very ill for nearly five years and my father took the role of mother and father although he was very busy with his job.  No matter how exhausted my father was, he gave us plenty of time and taught us the value of education and hard work.  At the age of seven my father thought I was skilled enough  to attend 4th grade and hence he sent me to the village school which was just a group that met under a tree. We had to bring our own cloth to sit on.”
Education was given prime importance even vacations. “As a child, my favorite place to visit during the summer  was a visit to my grandparent’s village named Kheri.  My father allowed us to go on our vacation only after we had finished the entire curriculum of the next grade. The village had no sanitary facilities and we had pumps for water. Yet I remember that time in the village with great fondness.  I thoroughly enjoyed feeding the animals,  riding bullock carts, camel and horses. Once I even rode a bull!” says Sangal.

Her excellent academic skills help her gain admission to the prestigious King George Medical College in Lucknow. After completing her medical degree she came to the United States. “My move to the US was accidental to say the least.  During my final year of medical school, at the suggestion of a family friend studying at the University of Pennsylvania (UPenn), I applied for an externship/observership at UPenn.  To my surprise, I was accepted. I was assigned to a three month general surgery rotation.  I arrived with $23 in my pocket in 1979 and the rest as they say is history."

A very skilled physician, her passion is to serve her patients with compassion and total dedication. This dedication has resulted in an admiring clientele who love their doctor.  The compassion and care is shown not just to her clients but to all people she has touched be it a family member or a friend.

In addition to her clinical practice she has done tremendous work to impact the world of medicine. She has served Middlesex North Medical Society for over fifteen years in various capacities including being the President.  She serves as a Trustee of Massachusetts Medical Society (MMS) and at its various committees. She has been the past MMS ambassador to the American Medical Society and an active member of MMS Legislative team.  She has served Indian Medical Association of New England in various roles including presidency and currently serves as a trustee. She has been a patron and the regional director of American Association of Physicians from India.

Wellness is a big passion for Sangal. She is the founder of "Health is Wealth Foundation".  She is also the founder of "BaroFit", a Weight Management & Wellness Program that was recently launched in India.

While her accomplishments in the field of medicine have been significant, life itself has presented her with some difficult challenges.  She survived a car accident in 1989 in which a very closed family friend passed away and her brother became disabled. Survivor guilt was a tough one to overcome. Her family members have been her biggest supporters. “My father, mother and eldest sister have been the biggest difference makers in my life.  Values of hard work with honesty, respect for others and doing good for anyone in need have been the core of my training at home.” Unfortunately she had to survive the tragic loss of her father, her closest adviser, who was killed by a drunken driver while he was standing on the side on the road.

She was diagnosed with Leukemia and Lymphoma since 2002 and has gone through Chemotherapy twice in three years.  Last year, she also underwent stem cell transplant.  “Such challenges teach the mind to remain independent of the physical state and connect with the inner resources of peace and strength. During my life journey, I have tried to learn from the stories and lives of many people such as world leaders, humanitarians, my teachers, friends, family members and also from all tough times and failures I have faced. I think that silence is the gateway to the inspiration and in silence we can find solution for almost every thing,” says Dr. Purnima.

Are there things she wishes she had done differently? “Not really, because I have always given better than my best to any responsibility I took or any situation I faced.  Even though at times a different outcome may be desirable, I always enjoyed the journey at ever step of the way. Life is a one-way street and there are no do-overs.  In my opinion, there is no such thing as failure; it is just a learning opportunity.  Moreover, dwelling on the past only stops us from moving forward and never allows us to experience the present moment.”
As we move to discover her personal side, we asked her about her favorite food, music, movies, books and sports. “I am a big fan of fresh fruits, multi-grain bread sandwich with fresh veggies and goat cheese, Pani Puri and Jalabi. Of course I would never have them all at the same time,” says Purnima with a smile.  Aandhi, Elizabeth, Forest Gump and Ghost top her list of favorite films. She loves semi-classical and devotional Indian music  'Endurance' by Alfred Lansing, Alive, Story of Rani Laxmi Baai & Chanakya, The Ethical Brain and Physics of the future are her favorite books. Tennis is her favorite sport.
Are there special holiday destinations she likes to visit? “Visiting my mother in Ghaziabad & family in India and doing outdoor activities such as camping, walking in the woods & connecting with wonders of the nature are my absolute favorite things to do. But, to feel renewed, I take a spiritual holiday, not away from life but inside myself, away from the obvious.”
When asked about collections she may own or be interested in, her response was most moving. “I collect only what I will be taking with me when I leave this body - good deeds, people's best wishes and their love.”

She always dared to dream big and do good. My favorite quote is the one by Dr. A.P.J Abdul Kalam – 11th President of India where he says "Dream is not what you see in sleep, dream is the thing which does not let you sleep.”  While she has contributed a lot to the world at large hopes to someday participate in an anti-corruption fight in India.

She is an expert gynecologist and yet she says is always hungry for knowledge. “I always try to do better than my best and I try to never give up.”
Her message for our readers is simple “Give back to the community as much as you can without expecting any thing in return.  Believe me, it is doable.”

Dr. Purnima is a true inspiration to women, doctors and entire humanity.  We wish her the very best and look forward to greater accomplishments from this very talented woman.

(Dr. Manju Sheth is a Board Certified Internist at Beverly Hospital. She is the President Elect of IMANE-Indian Medical Association of New England. She was chosen as India New England News' ''Woman of the year 2011''. Dr Sheth also won INEN /Readers Choice Award for Best Doctor in 2011. )

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