By Noel Daniel
Stanislaus County is fortunate to have a wealth of health professionals who can help our community in its times of greatest need. From head trauma and tricky dental care to integral area pediatrics and a careful understanding of diabetes, the health professionals in our community are the unsung heroes of the Central Valley.
Kelli Ashby, RN Doctors
Kelli Ashby was a trauma patient herself in the Neuroscience Critical Care Unit (NCCU) and had to deal with all that comes with having endured a head trauma—not to mention the ensuing emotional trauma. On multiple occasions, Kelli has spoken and encouraged patients and family members who have spent time in the NCCU due to a head trauma. One such case involved a 26-year-old trauma patient who had a shearing brain injury.
She was in a comatose state on arrival. The patient’s mother and family were extremely distraught and scared of all that the diagnosis would mean. The mother did not eat or sleep and was having a very hard time coping with the situation. One of the nurses on the unit showed the mother a newspaper clipping about Kelli and all that she overcame, which eventually led her to become a nurse in the very same unit that she was a patient in. The mother wanted to meet Kelli and hear her story. Kelli was assigned to be the patient’s nurse that night and Kelli spent many hours sitting with the mother and sharing her story and giving support to the family.
The patient started to wake up slowly and have some signs of slow improvement. Kelli knew that it was going to be a long process and that there would be a lot of new types of stress that would be laid on the mother’s lap, so Kelli went into action again. Kelli asked the patient’s mother if she would like to meet her own mother so that she could ask her questions that Kelli herself could not answer; it would be from a mother’s perspective. The patient’s mother eagerly agreed and Kelli arranged for her mother to meet the patient’s mother in the cafeteria for coffee.
The mothers spent time talking, and crying together. Kelli has come in on her day off to check on not only this patient’s mother but also another patient’s mother in the very next room. She has gone as far as to bring each of them a care package that she herself put together. Because Kelli can empathize with these patients and their families, she builds a bond with them that starts from her heart.
Dr. Tammy Wu, MD & Dr. Calvin Lee, MD
If you’ve been in the medical circles of Stanislaus County at all, there’s a good chance you’ve heard of Dr. Tammy Wu and Dr. Calvin Lee. They operate a plastic surgery and acupuncture practice and they want our patients to be healthy from inside to out. Their dedication to their practice and their art is what’s made them so well-known. They started Surgical Artistry in 2006 and ever since have been pouring in their joint knowledge of science and their unyielding compassion for patients.
They were especially compassionate to a boy with a deep burn on his hand. It was both disfigured and dysfunctional. The patient flew all the way from the Middle East and had his plastic surgery reconstruction conducted by Dr. Tammy Wu. His family had originally considered surgery through one of Dr. Wu’s professors, but the professor recommended his star pupil in his stead, who was now a full-fledged surgeon.
“The hardest part is realizing that there are other things in life other than surgery,” said Dr. Lee. “We spend much of our time at the office taking care of patients. We sometimes find it hard to have a life outside of our medical world.”
In spite of this, the two carry on, pursuing their passion for surgery and making it a veritable art.
Dr. Gopika Gangupantula MD, CDE
Valley Diabetes & Obesity
Dr. Gangupantula—or “Dr. G”—has made a profound impact in many patients’ lives, empowering them with an understanding of their medical condition. She has inspired patients to take accountability and responsibility for their medical conditions, putting them on a steady path to recovery and long-term health.
One patient in particular springs to mind for Dr. G. She had seen two other physicians for over four months, and kept being treated for assumed asthma and Pneumonia—however, she hadn’t received the appropriate imaging tests. Dr. G immediately sent her in for a CT scan, revealing secondary lung cancer from metastasis. The patient was then sent to oncology, and her family was beyond appreciative.
Patients aren’t the only ones getting help from Dr. G. In fact, she takes every opportunity to educate the community by giving talks, participating in health clinics, and health awareness events.
Her achievements range from diagnosing and curing ailments that patients have suffered from silently for many years, to helping patients deal with their obesity and managing their diabetes by bringing their A1c from over 15 percent to normal levels to under seven percent in as short as two to three months. Her passion for diabetes carries her through her day and she sees each and every patient with the same enthusiasm and interest with the plan of getting them to their goal—to enjoy their life to their fullest, even with Diabetes.
“I’m very thankful for my husband and my beautiful children who see my passion and support me in continuing my mission to help patients even though it may encroach into my family time,” said Dr. G. “I simply enjoy what I do and hope to be able to continue doing this service to the community as long as I’m able to.”
Christine Stewart, RN, CHPN
Out of everything Christine Stewart has done throughout her profession, she is the proudest of receiving her Hospice and Palliative Care Certification as well as her Pediatric Hospice and Palliative Care Certification. She was one of 13 in the State of California that received this certification back in March of 2012 when it was first offered. These certifications allowed her to become a better resource to the staff at Community Hospice, as well as many local healthcare community partners.
Since age three, Stewart knew she wanted to be a nurse. As soon as she was old enough, she became a candy striper and before she knew it, ended up working in healthcare almost all of her life. She’s been with Community Hospice for 28 years, caring and supporting for her patients. Without fault, Stewart treats all patients as though they were her own family—and feels blessed that she’s able to care for them.
“In nursing school my peers would explain that they were pursuing nursing for the money,” said Stewart. “I laughed because the money had never even crossed my mind. I am a nurse because it allows me to be myself and do what is most important to me; help those around me.”
Pankaj Patel, D. M. D.
It’s hard, and sometimes terrifying, for children to go in and get their teeth worked on. Dr. Patel, however, makes it his priority to assure that patients are comfortable and well-treated. He recalls being a Health Hero for one six-year-old who was so affected by his careful treatment that she hugged him upon seeing him six months later for her checkup.
Dr. Patel is not only important to his patients, but to his fellow colleagues and employees as well, having gleaned respect after years of hard work and a dedication to honesty. In spite of the troubles of learning the business side of dentistry—such as regulations and laws—Dr. Patel persisted in his goal of bringing quality dental work and anesthesia to those who need it. Not only that, but as the President of the San Joaquin Dental Society, he feels thankful for the members who have helped contribute to the less fortunate in the community.