NEW YORK: The California-based Simi Valley Hospital celebrated the opening of the Thakkar Family Emergency Pavilion, a $41 million expansion project, on Thursday. It’s named for the hospital’s husband-and-wife medical team of Dr. Umakant Thakkar (whose official name now is Dr. Kant Tucker) and Dr. Irma Harriman, who donated $1 million to kick off the fundraising effort for the ER expansion project.
The largest element of the project is the emergency pavilion. It adds 5,500 square feet to the existing Emergency Department and increases the number of patient rooms from 10 to 18. The department also has a two-bay triage area, a family room and a paramedic radio room, reported the Los Angeles Daily News.
Adventist Health, the hospital’s parent company, and donations from the community also helped fund the expansion. Thakkar and Harriman had made the pledge in July, 2010.
Thakkar is a leader of one of the largest nephrology groups in Southern California and has several successful Kidney Dialysis centers. He recognized the business opportunities in the field of nephrology and developed a business model that brought him financial success while practicing medicine in a way that provides clinical benefit, according to a prior press release.
Thakkar was born and raised in India at a time when his family was struggling financially. Once prosperous, the family business had collapsed due to a change in the laws and a devastating monsoon. He saw his parents and brothers juggle several jobs, and they moved from a house to a hotel.
Thakkar’s parents valued education. Despite their financial crisis, they made sure that their children’s education was not affected. Their values greatly influenced their youngest son and he applied himself to excelling in academics. As a teen, his heart was set on becoming an engineer and he eventually was accepted to India’s most elite school, the Indian Institute of Technology. At the end of his first year, India’s economy was in a recession, with the engineering field being particularly hurt. After speaking with family members, Thakkar decided to go into medicine instead of engineering. Earning high marks, he was accepted, with full scholarship, to the medical college – where he prepared for a career in internal medicine.
He came to the US with only $108 and stayed with a relative in New York. Two weeks later, he was mugged at knife and gunpoint and lost everything but a token for the subway. To make matters worse, he had missed an important appointment at St. Barnabas Hospital in the Bronx. The next day, he called Dr. Larson, Director of Internal Medicine at St. Barnabas, told him what happened and was given another interview. After meeting him, Dr. Larson offered him a position – as an intern.
Thakkar worked hard and the next year he was accepted into an accredited program in Internal Medicine at the Jersey City Medical Center. He was working with doctors in the field of nephrology – a subspecialty of internal medicine which studies and treats disorders of the kidneys. The memory of a personal tragedy – his brother-in-law lost his life due to renal failure several years before – fueled a new interest in nephrology and thus became his area of expertise.
In 1978, he began a two-year fellowship in nephrology with the Mt. Sinai School of Medicine and VA Medical Center in the Bronx. He joined a research team and loved it. Working on his own he made some important discoveries, but was reprimanded by his superiors for unauthorized use of the lab. He continued his exhaustive research and his study was finally accepted and published by the prestigious Journal of Clinical Investigation. This incident taught him “to never ignore your ‘gut’ feelings and to not let anything stand in your way if you believe in something strongly.”
Thakkar next continued his research at the Sepulveda VA hospital in Los Angeles. In 1980 he became an Asst. Professor at the UCLA School of Medicine and was made Chief of Nephrology at the affiliated Olive View Medical Center. Again, fate intervened when he learned the county would soon be closing its dialysis centers as a cost-cutting measure.
At about this time, for the convenience of page operators, he changed his name to Dr. Kant Tucker. In 1981, he started private practice in Simi Valley. Soon an emergency situation developed where a patient needed dialysis immediately. No local hospital had the equipment, so with the help of Jim Roberts, President of Simi Valley Hospital, Tucker arranged to buy a machine, which arrived that night, and he was able to provide the patient with dialysis. This was the first hemodialysis done in Simi Valley Hospital.
At that time, hemodialysis was a viable, life-saving treatment – but very expensive. Thousands of Americans die annually from End Stage Renal Disease (ESRD). In 1972, the federal government enacted a law extending Medicare coverage to anyone with ESRD regardless of age or financial situation. The funding resulted in more research in the field of renal disease. Today the US is the world leader in the treatment of chronic renal disease and the technology used in treatment.
In 1982, Tucker approached Simi Valley Hospital with the idea of building a chronic renal dialysis center across the street from the hospital. The hospital agreed to fund the project for 50% ownership and to sell their half back to Dr. Tucker at the end of five years. The Kidney Center of Simi Valley opened its doors in November 1985. In 5 years, Simi Valley Hospital’s $400,000 investment returned $4 million and they sold their half of the joint venture back to Tucker as promised.
Soon his medical practice was thriving, Dr. Irma Harriman joined him in practice and then in marriage. He started a new life with a new home he renovated to serve as headquarters for his growing business. With the help of his wife and extended family, new dialysis centers were established, more nephrologists joined his medical group and he continued to expand his business.
Kidney Center, Inc. was born, the head quarters moved from his garage to a modern facility in Simi Valley – offering management services to the medical group, chronic dialysis centers, acute inpatient hemodialysis-plasmapheresis business. Tucker has retained sole ownership of the corporation.