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Community Advocacy Organization

Dr. Chintalapudi Kumar receives Janet M. Wendorf Outstanding Caregiver Award

Dr. Chintalapudi Kumar of McLaren Greater Lansing is not a fan of hierarchical organizational structures when it comes to running an effective and efficient Intensive Care Unit (ICU).

He believes nurses, doctors, residents, and others do the best job of caring for patients and their families when each of them view themselves as an equally important cog in the ICU.

“I don’t want anyone to feel like I am above them,” Dr. Kumar said. “I don’t want there to be a hierarchy. I have worked at hospitals where there was a hierarchy and I didn’t like it. They didn’t work as well.”

By treating everyone as an equal, whether they be patients and their families, nurses, residents or whomever, Dr. Kumar has become a beloved and highly respected physician at McLaren Greater Lansing. One who was presented with the inaugural Janet M. Wendorf Outstanding Caregiver Award on October 14 when the McLaren Greater Lansing Foundation held its Annual Gala at the Country Club of Lansing.

The Gala raised more than $264,000 in cash and in-kind gifts, a $39,000 increase over last year. Proceeds from the event will support the Emergency Department, Oncology Services, and areas of greatest need.

The Foundation created the Outstanding Caregiver Award to honor Jan Wendorf. The annual award recognizes a caregiver at McLaren Greater Lansing for his or her commitment to providing quality and compassionate care to patients and their families.

Jan, who passed away in January, was a vibrant, no-nonsense person who understood the importance of giving back. She believed if you always did what was right, good things would come to you. And when good things came to you, it was imperative that you help others.

Jan and her husband Dick moved from Mason to Port Charlotte, Fla., in 1984. Dick went on to become the owner of a successful construction company, but he and Jan never forgot their Michigan roots, eventually buying a seasonal home in the state, and supporting the McLaren Greater Lansing Foundation and other community organizations.

In 2010, Jan secured singer Lee Greenwood for a Stars and Stripes Forever concert that benefitted McLaren Greater Lansing, and honored first responders and members of the military. She and Dick also made sizeable contributions in support of the Jack Breslin Golf Classic and the Annual Gala, the Foundation’s two major annual fundraising events. In addition, they funded the Foundation’s purchase of an all-terrain wheelchair for a veteran in Eaton County.

Described by family and friends as a “remarkable and naturally beautiful woman,” Jan modeled for Knapp’s department store when she was 21, but also had an affinity for fast cars, and was the first woman to win a race at Onondaga Dragway.

Tom Mee, RN, BSN, MBA, president and CEO of McLaren Greater Lansing, said Jan was a true friend of the hospital. Her generosity, kindness, and warmth exemplified values that are critical to the extraordinary care provided to patients at McLaren Greater Lansing and McLaren Orthopedic Hospital.

Those same qualities have been attributed to Dr. Kumar, a 50-year old native of India who has worked at McLaren Greater Lansing since 2010. One co-worker has characterized him as a “quiet and gentle soul” who treats every patient as if that person was his mom or dad. It does not matter if an individual is from an impoverished background or from one of wealth, Dr. Kumar treats them in the same respectful manner. He is thorough when it comes to informing patients about their condition and how to best treat it or deal with it. He is calm when answering their questions.

He is also known for the empathetic way in which he interacts and communicates with family members of patients. He realizes it is critically important for them to understand what is going on with their loved ones and what treatment options are available. He wants them to be well-informed and as comfortable as possible during a stressful and uncertain time, and will often consult with them multiple times.

“In plain terms, I will tell them what is happening.” Dr. Kumar said. “That is important because a lot of times we might be dealing with an end of life situation.”

Dr. Kumar is always focused on doing what is best for the patient. He views himself as an optimist, but also as a realist.

“If there is a one percent hope, I will do everything to bring them back,” he said. “I do believe in miracles, but I don’t want a patient to suffer before a miracle happens.”

Working in a high-intensity environment such as the ICU can take an emotional toll on doctors, nurses, and other staff. And it is one of the reasons Dr. Kumar has been intent on creating a family-like atmosphere in the unit. He has done this by making sure his co-workers know he values the skills and strengths they possess.

“The beauty of this hospital is we have an amazing nursing staff, and an amazing group of residents, and we all work as a family,” he said. “I spend more time with them than I do with my own family, so it’s important that we trust and respect each other.”

Food has been a key ingredient in the creation of that familial feel. Dr. Kumar often eats lunch with nurses and residents so he can get to know them better, and let them know he views their jobs to be as important as his when it comes to how the ICU functions. He and his wife, Dr. Suhasini Macha, also host an annual holiday dinner at their home, where he prepares Indian cuisine so tasty and plentiful that one nurse quipped she often needs to be “rolled out of there” by the end of the night.

Dr. Kumar’s colleagues repeatedly state that he loves his job, takes great pride in it, and frequently tells those around him that “when you do a good job, you sleep well at night.”

To Dr. Kumar, being a physician is the most satisfying profession in the world. He cannot imagine another job that would give him the same kind of fulfillment he gets from working in the ICU.

“My approach is when I am doing my job sincerely, that’s the job satisfaction,” he said. “I know the ICU mortality rates are high, but you get a lot of satisfaction working with patients. And if you do your best working with patients, that is where you get your satisfaction.”

Despite the high praise from colleagues, and admirable approach he brings to his job, Dr. Kumar had no idea he was going to be honored as the inaugural recipient of the Wendorf Outstanding Caregiver Award when he attended the Annual Gala. His wife thought he might be the honoree as she listened to Sheri Jones of WLNS TV-6, the event’s honorary chair, read comments from co-workers about the winner. But Dr. Kumar was floored when his name was announced.

After receiving a standing ovation, his acceptance speech was short and sweet. He said he was “very humbled” at receiving the award, and thanked McLaren Greater Lansing for giving him an “opportunity” to do his job.

“The award was very, very rewarding to me,” he said. “That night, I couldn’t sleep. I was very excited and called my mom in India.”

It was a rare night. One when he did not sleep well.

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