Persistence leads to the American dream

July 3, 2013
Dr. Anand Karamcheti is shown in an exam room during one of his last days before retiring after more than 30 years as a urologist in Washington. - Jim McNutt / Observer-Reporter Order a Print

Anand Karamcheti, M.D., had an American dream that initially morphed into a nightmare.

“When we got married, I said to my wife that I definitely want to migrate to the United States,” he said, reflecting to 1969, when he and Rama vowed to leave their native India when it was practical.

“It was tough sledding (there). Dad wanted a better life for us, and he brought us to the U.S.,” said Adi Karamcheti, the eldest of the couple’s two sons.

Adi was 3 months old when the family landed at John F. Kennedy International Airport in 1972. The father was a first-year resident in general surgery in Morristown, N.J., then a year later moved the clan to nearby New York City, where he began a urological residency.

It didn’t take long for Anand to experience the seamy side of that toddlin’ town. The man whose name means “bliss” encountered a rotten Apple.

“I was working a rotation,” Karamcheti recalled. “It was late one night and I went out to get two slices of pizza and a Coke. I was coming back and a tall guy approached and asked for a dollar. I said I didn’t have it, but I had 50 cents. He said he needed a dollar and pulled a gun.

“He shot, and the bullet just missed my lower ear and hit a Mack truck.”

Only a week later, he answered a page for a nephrologist, but couldn’t find him.

“He had been mugged on an elevator,” Karamcheti said. “He had two broken ribs and a broken leg bone. I decided I had to get out of here.”

Not quickly enough to avoid a third criminal encounter.

“I was filling out a prescription and a guy said, ‘Doc, give me 50 bucks,’” Karamcheti said. “I asked, ‘Why should I give you 50 bucks?’ He said, ‘Give me 100 bucks or I’ll shoot you.’ I gave him 100 and didn’t tell anybody.”

Time to move. Karamcheti, Rama, Adi and infant son Deepak relocated to Pittsburgh, where the doctor enrolled at the University of Pittsburgh in 1974 to complete his residency in urology. This is where he began living up to his name – bliss – and where his dream, finally, started to materialize.

After three years at UPMC-Montefiore and Presbyterian hospitals, Karamcheti established a private practice in Washington. In the 36 years since, he has thrived there as a physician, family man, resident and hobbyist.

Anand Karamcheti may be thousands of miles from his roots, but he has found bliss in his adoptive hometown. “Living here has been a very pleasant experience,” he said. “The people are very accommodating and friendly.”

His wonderful life changed a little Friday with his professional retirement at 68. But it’s one that remains electric.

Four grandchildren, 80 rose bushes, one loving wife and expansive collections of books, stamps and friends at his Fairmont Avenue home will continue to energize him.

On this Independence Day, Karamcheti is an exemplary example of what an individual can accomplish in this nation, despite arriving with “no family, no friends, no help” and virtually no money. This man who has performed more than 12,000 vasectomies has proven to be a cut above.

Near-perfect practice

There probably isn’t a perfect job, or even a nearly perfect one. Karamcheti believes he came close in Washington.

“I’ve had only one bad experience during my career here,” he said. “I introduced myself to a lady in an exam room, and she refused to be treated by a colored physician. I told her she was free to choose.

“Most patients were so good … 36 years in practice and one exception.”

He came to Washington seeking an opportunity, then seized it. The city had lost its two urologists, one dying, the other afflcted by a stroke. Karamcheti filled two voids – a medical one locally, a financial one for himself.

Money hadn’t come easily since his arrival in ’72. Karamcheti came to the states with $132 of his cash, plus $108 his sister had earned selling Max Factor products in Australia. His paycheck at Morristown Memorial Hospital provided only $172 every two weeks.

Salaries and costs were much more modest then, but his cash flow wasn’t optimal. Banks were reluctant to grant loans.

Karamcheti started to gain a fiscal foothold while working at UPMC, then strengthened it in Washington County, where he had his practice and served on the staffs of Washington and Canonsburg General hospitals.

“I was one of the first minorities to work” at Washington Hospital, he said.

Work is an operative work here. Karamcheti did not shy away from it while ramping up his career – and after establishing himself. To pay some debts years ago, he worked two consecutive grueling shifts for six months: 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. at Washington Hospital, then 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. at his practice.

The doctor also was a consultant for VA Pittsburgh Health System and the Bureau of Vocational Rehabilitation in Washington; a consultant/professor for UPMC; and did vasectomies for Planned Parenthood.

He kept his private practice on Wellness Way, South Strabane Township, until 2011, when he joined the Washington Physicians Group on Locust Avenue in the city.

Following his father

Being a physician isn’t easy, of course, but Karamcheti had a marvelous role model. His father, Suryanarayana, specialized in internal medicine and cardiology and was dean of a medical school in India.

He was a war hero, too.

The elder Karamcheti was a four-star general in the British Indian Army during World War II. His unit was in Burma in 1945, supporting the Allies, when it was overwhelmed by the Japanese. He was listed as missing in action.

Suryanarayana was one of five who survived and hid in a couple of bunkers for 14 days, carefully rationing food and water. The Karamcheti family got a telegram May 24 stating that Suryanarayana was alive – the day his son was born.

“He said to name me Anand,” said Karamcheti, whose father persevered through that hellish war experience to live to age 83.

Life in the United States has been an education for Anand Karamcheti since that flight to JFK Airport. Literally.

“Mom said our first meal in America was a chicken sandwich from a vending machine,” said Adi, 41, who lives in Washington with his wife, Erenia, and their two sons. “They had never bought food from a vending machine, and it was cold, and neither mom nor dad was really sure what to do.”

Anand adapted well, and so did his family.

Rama got a master’s degree in library science from Pitt and retired from Citizens Library a few years back. Adi also graduated from Pitt, Deepak from Penn State University. Adi is a FedEx employee in Moon Township. Deepak lives in Massachusetts with his wife, son and daughter, and works for a nonprofit agency that provides assistance for home buyers.

Work is a passion for Dr. Karamcheti, but it has always been a runner-up to his family. “The first thing I think of with dad is his patience and his kindness,” Adi said in an email. “As great a father as he is, he is an even better grandfather. (The other day), my oldest son, Ram, turned his ankle while we were playing in the backyard. His first thought was to ask for his grandfather. I took him to the house and dad wrapped up his ankle with an Ace bandage and told him that everything would be fine. Ram stopped worrying about his ankle in that instant.

“(My dad) is never happier than when all four of the grandchildren are in the house.”

The doctor also remains in touch with a brother and sister in India, and with about 15 cousins and an aunt living in the United States.

His perception of family extends beyond relatives, though. It includes a number of friends, especially Sandy Pavcic, his receptionist for 29 years.

When she was married years ago, Karamcheti said, “I sent her and her husband to Bermuda for a week. It was my wedding gift.”

His retirement gift to himself is simple, but pleasurable: more time for his wife, children, grandchildren, friends, and the roses, stamps and books. He reads in four languages and understands eight, “most of them Indian.”

It has been an interesting 41 years in the States.

Along the way, son Adi said, “he became a Steelers fan, dealt with challenges of trying to get money to set up his practice, fought some battles with racism, became an American citizen – the thing he might be most proud of – and fell in love with the people of Southwestern Pennsylvania.”

A true Yankee Doodle Dandy.

Rick Shrum joined the Observer-Reporter as a reporter in 2012, after serving as a section editor, sports reporter and copy editor at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Rick has won seven individual writing awards, including two Golden Quills.

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