A chef's visit to your restaurant table usually brings smiles. For Mid-Atlantic Permanente Medical Group (MAPMG) radiologist Amarnath Sortur, MD, his smile was mixed with tears.
This past November, Dr. Sortur, an eight-year veteran of medical missions with the nonprofit Hands International, was dining in Nairobi. He and mission team colleagues were finishing their meal when one of the restaurant's chefs came up to the table and gave them all a big hug.
"She said, 'You were the one who removed my cyst,'" recalls Dr. Sortur, who performs scans and ultrasounds for Hands International surgical teams across the globe. "I could not control my tears."
A year earlier, he and the Hands International team had set up a free clinic in Kenya. "[The chef] had travelled over 200 miles from Nairobi to get to our campsite in Kenya to try to find out what was wrong with her," he explains. "Our patients come to us with such trust and belief. She thought she was pregnant, but when I did an ultrasound I discovered a 19-centimeter ovarian cyst." The next day, the surgeons operated and successfully removed the cyst.
Inspired to serve
Since his first medical mission to Nepal to assist with earthquake relief in 2010, Dr. Sortur has traveled on trips ranging from a long weekend to two weeks. Service is essential to who he is as a physician and person, and it's the reason he chose his profession. "My goal is to do what I can for whomever walks in the door, patient or family member," he says of his career that encompasses private practice in radiology and, since 2016, practicing with MAPMG.
His passion for medicine was inspired by a day he will never forget: One morning, as a teenager in India, he stopped to visit his grandparents before school: "My grandfather was lying on his bed and told me that he was not feeling well." Neither of his grandparents knew what the matter was, nor did they have access to health care. "When I came home from school, my grandfather had died from massive cardiac arrest," he recalls.
The experience fueled Dr. Sortur's desire to "do better" for his family and go to medical school. After graduating from Topiwala National Medical College in Mumbai, he completed his residency at Detroit Receiving Hospital in the United States. Initially, he thought he'd be an ophthalmologist. "Giving the gift of vision drew me in, but during my radiology rotation, I was able to touch every branch of medicine and realized that I had a different calling," says Dr. Sortur, who is certified by the American Board of Radiology.
Passionate about prevention
In April, Dr. Sortur returns to Trinidad, where he has served with Hands International several times. "We see a real impact there with significant dollars in the last three years spent [by the government] to improve healthcare, from improving operating rooms to opening up smaller clinics," he says.
One of the goals of the trips is to educate about preventative care - a mission he embraces stateside: "At MAPMG, prevention is so important. I take the time to explain to my patients about why we're doing what we're doing or why this test is important. When we spend time with our patients, they can make better decisions focused on their needs and their illness or disease," he says. "Because of my mission work, I am more aware of what I need to communicate."
An advocate for innovative care
Dr. Sortur brings innovation to MAPMG with his 15 years of expertise in performing CT colonography, in which the radiologist fills a patient's colon with carbon dioxide to perform a CAT scan that digitally maps the colon. "It's a GPS for the colon doctor," he explains of the procedure that shares the same patient preparation as a traditional colonoscopy.
"Many times, we cannot get through the entire colon during a [traditional] colonoscopy, or we have patients for a variety of reasons who are not candidates for an invasive procedure. CT colonography is an opportunity to provide another service to MAPMG patients." He piloted the program with MAPMG first in Gaithersburg; the service now is available at MAPMG's Tyson's Corner Medical Center and the South Baltimore Medical Center.
"At MAPMG, I can practice health care the way it was meant to be practiced, with the freedom to change orders if I need to and without the issues of reimbursement," says Dr. Sortur. "It's coordinated, not fragmented, care."
A family affair
Both of Dr. Sortur's sons - his oldest is a pre-med at Georgetown University, his youngest a junior in high school - have accompanied their father on Hands International trips, and his wife, Jarita Dihenkar, MD (a geriatrics, hospice, and palliative care physician at the Wilmington VA Medical Center), does medical service trips to Haiti through Vanderbilt University. The family also enjoys traveling, skiing, and white-water rafting together. But it's their shared commitment to service and Dr. Sortur's daily practice of mediation and yoga that set the foundation for everything else.
This practice inspires the question Dr. Sortur has asked himself each day since medical school: "What can I do to make my patients feel better today?"
"At MAPMG or on a medical mission, we are all working toward the same goal and every person - the surgeon, the nurses, the janitors, the people who make the appointment - is playing a major role. It is very fulfilling."