Hometown Doctor

Health, Home & Family, Hometown Heroes, People
on September 22, 2002

Dr. Kamlesh Gosai enters the examining room with a smile. “Sylvia, how are you?” he asks, greeting Sylvia Brow, 74. The diminutive woman opens her arms wide, pulls the doctor to her, and they hug.

“He gives the best hugs,” Brow says as she lets go. Gosai’s smile broadens; he’s heard it before many times. In Bentleyville, a southwestern Pennsylvania town of 2,500, Gosai, is known as the “hugging doctor.”

“I’ve never heard of anyone who didn’t want to be hugged, but many times I’ve heard patients say they need to have their hug. They love the man,” says Carol Goettel, a nurse at Gosai’s clinic.

“Doc Gosai” is the best, his patients agree. From Kuzy’s Drug Store to Debbie’s Delight, a burger and shake joint with a pink Cadillac permanently parked out front, people gladly share stories about Gosai: how he discovered cancer in time to save a loved one, how he still makes occasional house calls, and how he listens, shouldering burdens that have no medicinal remedies. “He’s not one of those doctors out on the golf course all the time,” Brow says.

Gosai, 46, was Bentleyville’s doctor of the year long before 2001, when he was named Country Doctor of the Year, by StaffCare, a health care agency that recognizes outstanding rural practitioners.

Not that he didn’t have to win over Bentleyville. Gosai didn’t look or sound like any doctor the town had seen.

Born in India, he was the fifth of six children. His mother was a music teacher; his father a lawyer. Like his siblings (four of whom are also physicians), he was blessed with intelligence, ambition, and a desire to become an American.

“From a very early age, the U.S. is where I knew I wanted to come,” he says, standing in his office, a patient’s folder tucked under an arm. Gosai declines wearing a white exam coat, preferring to work in a cotton dress shirt, gray-black slacks, and shiny black wingtips, a stethoscope around his neck.

He went to college and medical school in India, then completed residencies at Tulane University and the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Then he was the civilian head of occupational medicine at a naval hospital in Jacksonville, Fla.

The work was interesting, but it was not the satisfying career of his dreams. “I always wanted to be a family doctor, to settle down in one place for a long time, and build a clinic that would give quality patient care,” Gosai says.

‘I just treasure him’

Gosai first laid eyes on Bentleyville in spring 1988.

“A lot of people like to say Doc Gosai arrived on a white horse, but I know for a fact that he arrived in an old Ford Bronco,” Tom Brown chuckles. Brown is the mayor, owner of a car repair shop in the single-stoplight town, and one of the doctor’s patients.

Gosai’s brother, a physician in another rural Pennsylvania community, had recommended Bentleyville, where coal was once king.

But coal played out, and Bentleyville became an endangered town. City officials struggled to find a physician who would stay more than 12 months.

Bentleyville, however, was just what Gosai wanted. He rented a home for his growing family—a wife and two kids (later to become three)—and opened a clinic next to the Giant Eagle grocery store on the main road through town.

And the young doctor waited for patients. “They were unsure of me, this foreign-born doctor with the funny accent. There were those who had their doubts, people who came to the office not as patients, but to meet me socially, to talk to me,” Gosai remembers.

Karen Stewart was his first employee, and she’s still with him. “I remember that we saw, at first, five patients in a day. Now we’re up to 80. We have really grown,” she says.

Indeed, Gosai has about 10,000 patients on file, some from as far as 45 miles away. They come even when insurance doesn’t pay for the visit.

“And we bake for him—cookies, lasagna. We’re trying to put some weight on him,” Nancy Carpenter, a longtime patient, says with a laugh. Other patients bring fresh vegetables from their gardens.

Such loyalty is rewarded because “his vision is to give quality care,” says Margaret Immel, the clinic’s office manager, whose brogue is thick as Christmas pudding even though the Scotland native has lived in the United States for more than two decades.

“Our goal is to accommodate the patients—no ifs, ands, or buts,” she says. “The staff does not take precedence here, the patients do.”

The clinic’s laboratory is an example. Technicians monitor machines usually found only in hospital labs. They are capable of conducting a battery of tests, with results available the same day. If Gosai requests it, results are known before the patient leaves the office.

“This is what I dreamed of when I thought of my clinic,” says Gosai, strolling through the brightly lighted laboratory, his arms crossed against his chest. “I want to make it as easy as I can for my patients. They deserve the best care I can give them,” he says.

Frank Terrett, a former coal mine inspector disabled by three heart attacks and a kidney transplant, believes him. “What I like about Doc is he worries about the patient. If I need him to come to the house, he comes. If I need a specialist, he’ll find me one. I just treasure him,” Terrett says, his voice a rumbling bass that begins to quiver. “He’s kept me alive so my grandkids can see their Pap and be old enough to remember me. I could never repay him for that.”

Moving from examination room to examination room with unfettered energy fueled by his aunt’s spicy homemade Indian cooking, Gosai greets every patient by first name. “He never forgets a name,” Immel observes.

The doctor pauses outside a door, looking at the chart of Dick Hampsey, a man in his early 50s who resides in a group home. The home switched doctors because they like the attention Gosai pays to their special needs clients.

On this day, a routine checkup, Hampsey has good news. “Quit smoking,” the man declares as Gosai opens the door. “Dick, I am proud of you,” the country doctor replies, putting his hand on the man’s shoulder.

“Yeah, I quit. Blood pressure better. I smell better,” Hampsey says, peering down the bridge of his nose. “Yes, you do,” Gosai says, not dropping a beat. The two men exchange glances and laugh. “I like you Doc, yes I do,” Hampsey says.

Putting their trust in him

Gosai acknowledges that his personal style of medical care is a rarity in the 21st century, but it works for him and his patients. “I’m not looking to see as many patients as fast as I can. I want to improve their lives, not make as much money as I can. After these years, they trust me to do what is best for them. I value that trust,” he says.

His next patient is Laura Hines, 62, who is recovering from cancer and the recent death of a close friend. “I’ve been through a lot,” says the woman, evidently not feeling up to par.

Gosai orders blood drawn. About 45 minutes later, he returns. Her blood count has dropped from the previous week so he alters her medication.

“Take care of yourself, Laura,” he says, reaching out to say goodbye. “I need you,” the woman replies, bear-hugging the doctor from India who has become a hero to this small Pennsylvania town.

Gosai looks his patient in the eyes and replies, “I’ll be here.”