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‘Dr. K.’ remembered

Published 11:22pm Saturday, February 9, 2013

A pediatrician of generations of Suffolk residents is being remembered this weekend as a kind and gentle soul who loved his family, his patients and the community.

Dr. Kalathil N.V. Sankaran, known to most as “Dr. K.,” died Thursday evening at the age of 71. He and his wife, Dr. Nellie M. Sankaran, ran a pediatric practice at 440 W. Washington St. in downtown Suffolk for 34 years before retiring in July 2010.

Sankaran left a legacy as the doctor who wouldn’t just send his patients to the hospital, but would get in the ambulance and go with them; who wouldn’t just tell patients’ parents to call with updates, but would call them if they forgot; who wouldn’t just listen to young patients, but would draw elephants for them while he listened; who wouldn’t just call the office to check in while he was on vacation, but would call patients’ families directly to check in.

Sankaran

“I think he was one of the best pediatricians in Suffolk,” said Gail Wyatt, who was office manager for the Sankarans for 28 years. “He touched so many people.”

Sankaran grew up in India and came to Suffolk in 1976 by way of England, New York and Georgia. “Suffolk has been his home,” daughter Minna Sandwich said. “He gave so much to the community, and it gave so much back to him.”

Sankaran was an attending physician at Obici Hospital and served as chief of pediatrics there for a time. Many former patients later brought their own children to see him.

“He was my daughter’s pediatrician for nearly all of her childhood,” said Luefras Robinson. “He was a wonderful physician and very caring. He really took time to get to know his patients and their needs.”

Robinson recalled that Sankaran would point his finger, smile and tell his patients, “Eat to live, not live to eat.”

“We’ll never forget that or the attention he always gave us,” Robinson said.

Once in Suffolk, Sankaran overcame being an “outsider” by building a reputation as a hard worker who cared deeply for his patients in the office he had carefully designed himself.

“Growing up, what he taught me was the value of hard work,” Sandwich said. “He thinks as long as you work hard, that’s all that matters. I don’t even think he realized what he did for other people, because it was so natural for him.”

Sankaran cared nearly as much about his employees as his patients. He hired Jeanie Pippin as a receptionist when she was 18 and had no experience.

“He was really good to us,” recalled Pippin, who worked for Sankaran for 12 years and also took her children to see him. “He demanded hard work and dedication, but it was easy to give that to him. He was just a compassionate, caring physician and friend.”

Debbie Ford, who worked there as a nurse for nearly 20 years, said the expectations in the office were clear: Never turn away a sick child, no matter what time of day it was or how overbooked the schedule was.

“He always saw those sick kids,” Ford said.

It didn’t matter what day it was, either, Wyatt added.

“He would go in to see patients on the weekends, on Thanksgiving, it didn’t matter,” Wyatt said. “You could call him at home and he’d say, ‘Meet me at the office.’”

Sankaran’s legacy to his family mirrors the community’s memories.

Sankaran’s daughter Marie Raval recalled her father examining patients in the family’s living room, always smiling ear to ear. She remembers people approaching him in public to tell him how he took such good care of them.

“When I think of my Daddy, I see a man generous but strict, giving me the most amazing life I could never have even imagined, but at the same time instilling in me the work ethic of a man who came from nothing but made a town fall in love with him,” she said.

Her father also adored his only grandchild, her 2-year-old son, who called him “Papa.”

Sankaran’s sons-in-law also held high praise for the man who treated them like his own sons.

“He was one of the most honest people, very straightforward and very generous,” Bob Sandwich said. “I feel very blessed to be a member of his family.”

“He was the best father-in-law I could ask for,” added Tejas Raval. “He always had a smile on his face and taught us how to appreciate all of the little joys in life.”

Sankaran is survived by his wife, Dr. Nellie Sankaran, two daughters and their husbands, a grandson and a brother and sister-in-law. A visitation will be held today, Sunday, from 4 to 6 p.m. at Parr Funeral Home and Crematory. A funeral mass will be held Monday at 3 p.m. at St. Mary of the Presentation Catholic Church.

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