By Leslie Krowchenko, Special to the Hellenic News of America
As a teenager, Reema Salat always knew she wanted to help others.
As Reema Patel, M.D., she is doing just that.
Dr. Patel, board certified in Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism, works at The Diabetes and Endocrinology Center at Old Bridge Medical Center, a division of Hackensack Meridian Health. She is a member of a team where diagnosis is coupled with education to improve the lives of their patients.
“Diabetes is a silent disease, which often does not display any symptoms,” she said. “People often live not knowing they have it.”
A native of India, Dr. Patel was planning her future the same time American girls were planning their Sweet Sixteen parties. Like future ministers who receive the call, she felt God was asking her to choose a path of healing. Her parents, Dr. M. F. Salat, an English professor, and Shashi Salat, a retired principal of a Hindi school, were very supportive of her decision, but wanted to be certain her mid-teen mind recognized she would be on the academic path until her late 20s.
“They wanted to make sure I knew what I was doing and that the road would be long and hard,” she said. “My father asked many doctors to talk with me so that he was sure that I was confident in my descision.”
Dr. Patel also looked up to her aunt, Neeru Salat, who retired earlier this year as an Associate Vice President at The Hindu Group of Publications. Growing up, her aunt served as her role model.
“She was one of the most dedicated and ambitious professionals,” she said. “I always wanted to be like her.”
In 2000, Dr. Patel enrolled in The Government Medical College, Surat, completing the five-and-a-half-year program to earn a Bachelor of Medicine and Surgery (MBBS). Her high school sweetheart, Arpit Patel, had moved to the United States to pursue his medical degree; so with her diploma in hand, she followed.
While her now-husband was in school, Dr. Patel worked as a medical assistant for Vinod Lala M.D., an endocrinologist in Jersey City. He became one of her mentors, acquainting her with the study of hormones and its related diseases.
Dr. Patel resumed her training in 2008, completing her residency at Jersey Shore University Medical Center in 2011. There she met her second mentor, Sunil Asnani, M.D., who inspired her to pursue endocrinology. She finished her residency two years later at the University of Buffalo, a school highly regarded for its endocrinology program, followed by completing her fellowship under Paresh Dandona, M.D as well as Ajay Chaudhuri, M.D. She joined the staff at Old Bridge in 2013.
Dr. Patelspecializes in diagnosing, treating and managing endocrine disorders, which effect the hormone-secreting glands that regulate countless body functions. Ailments include thyroid disorders (hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism), thyroid cancers, calcium disorders, polycystic ovary syndrome, adrenal and pituitary disorders and obesity.
Inspired by her mentors, Dr. Patel has a special interest in diabetes, a chronic health condition that affects how the body turns food into energy. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 37.3 million Americans, or one in 10, have diabetes, yet one in five do not realize it. Nearly 96 million American adults, more than one in three, have prediabetes; eight in 10 are unaware of the condition.
“My mentors’ passion was contagious,” she said. “It is what led me to be so enthusiastic.”
Old Bridge Medical Center was supportive of her passion, opening the Joslin Diabetes Center. The practice is staffed by four doctors, three diabetes nurse educators and two registered dieticians. The nurse educators and dieticians augment the physicians, providing one-on-one instructions to patients. The diabetes education program is nationally accredited by the American Diabetes Association.
Following the doctor’s orders, understanding the instructions and the basics of care is critical to an individual’s wellbeing. Personal health knowledge is crucial when managing a chronic conditition such as diabetes and the degree to which individuals can find, comprehend and use health-related information and services, can be challenging.
For those whose first language is not English, interpreting medical terminology can be as difficult as implementing it. Asian Americans are 40 percent more likely to be diagnosed with diabetes than non-Hispanic whites, according to the CDC, and approximately 50 percent of those who visit the practice are natives of India or Pakistan.
Dr. Patel prides herself in her ability to ease the burden for many of her patients, as she is fluent in Gujarati, Hindi, Punjabi and Urdu, which is comforting to her patients.
“It is a relief for non-English speaking patients, many of whom come with hesitation,” she said. “Maintenance such as food habits and restrictions can be hard to explain and they appreciate that I understand.”
Diabetes management includes healthy eating, regular exercise, weight loss, regular foot inspection, and blood sugar monitoring. Long-term complications develop gradually and the longer and more uncontrolled they are, the higher the risk of issues such as heart attack or stroke.
“Controlling diabetes is all about making dietary modifications and lifestyle changes that become long-term habits,” said Patel. “We provide the education and support to aid in making those changes.”
Monitoring one’s caloric intake, walking several times a week and dropping those extra pounds are often easier said than done, but patients are inspired when they see the positive results of modifying their behavior (“I feel better”). They are also encouraged by the continuity of care provided by Patel and her team.
“I always tell them ‘I will not give up on you,’” she said. “In the same way, I don’t want you to give up on yourself.”