CUMBERLAND — After more than four decades of service and treating more than 10,000 patients, kidney specialist Dr. Nagaratnam Ranjithan will retire in December.
A nephrologist, Ranjithan came to Cumberland in 1976. He has treated countless people with renal disease, many in need of peritoneal or hemodialysis, which takes the place of normal kidney function by cleansing the blood of toxins.
Ranjithan first came to United States in 1969 from his home country of Sri Lanka, an island at the southern tip of India. Now 71, he will retire in December, ending his medical practice in Cumberland after 42 years.
“I was always happy that I came to Cumberland,” Ranjithan said during a recent interview. “I never had to regret coming to Cumberland.”
He operated his practice at a few different sites, including the medical building at the former Memorial Hospital, before opening an office at 517 E. Oldtown Road.
“It’s been hard saying goodbye to the patients,” he said. “We talk about the past. Some have many years with me. Some of them are crying. You get to know their lives and their family and friends, and build a relationship with them.
“I am very grateful for my patients, for their friendship and their gift of knowledge,” Ranjithan said. “It’s from my dialysis patients, honestly, I can say I learned what courage is. They come for dialysis three days a week. They just get feeling better and the next day they have to come for dialysis again ... and they come.”
Ranjithan first landed in New Jersey in 1969 after graduating from medical school in Sri Lanka.
“When I came to this country I had $75 in my pocket,” he said. “This was my own money. I came to Orange, New Jersey. I remember going to the bank and started my account with $75.
“I began work and I was making $700 a month.”
After a stint in New Jersey, Ranjithan worked at a veterans hospital in Bronx, New York, before coming to Allegany County in 1976.
“I moved to Cumberland in July of ‘76,” Ranjithan said. “They really needed me because there were about 10 dialysis patients. They were being taken care of by Dr. Tom Graff and Dr. Guy Fiscus. They did not feel comfortable with all the renal patients. They were looking for somebody, so I landed in the job.”
Ranjithan said the number of kidney patients has risen over the years.
“The dialysis population has expanded,” he said. “It’s because the population is getting older, there is better recognition of the disease and we have more dialysis machines. It’s everything put together. Many patients with multiple things wrong with them may not have survived years ago.”
Ranjithan said he learned much once he began treating patients.
“I have changed over the years because of working as a doctor,” he said. “When you come out of medical school and training, you think you are on top of the world. You will take care of it with science. But over the years you learn the art of it. The ideal doctor is someone who can combine both: the science and the art.”
He said the patient/doctor relationship is vital.
“There is a place for smartness and sharpness in medicine and there is place for kindness,” he said. “We have to always keep in mind that ultimately the doctor exists because of the patients. There is a place for humility in medicine. When you are at the other end as patient. You look at a doctor and they appreciate kindness. That is something I did not know when I got out of medical school. You are always learning.”
Joining the interview was Ranjithan’s wife Vimala. The couple raised two children from their home in LaVale and now have six grandchildren.
Vimala Ranjithan is also a physician. She worked alongside her husband until she retired three years ago. They discussed their future with both retired.
“She wants me to start learning cooking,” joked Naragatnam Ranjithan. “But I have not done that yet.”
“Of course I want him to learn,” Vimala Ranjithan said with a laugh. “I always tell him, ‘When I am sick I expect you to know how to do this.’ I also tell him he should write. He tells stories about the patients. I tell him to write the stories. I’m telling him to write about his career.”
The retiring doctor said he hopes to slow down.
“I won’t let the grass grow under my feet,” he said. “But I will do the things I’ve always put off. I want to read. I like literature and poetry and listening to music and travel some.”
Their daughter, a veterinarian, lives in Virginia, and their son, a radiologist, lives in Texas.
Sue Spangler, a licensed practical nurse, has worked alongside the Ranjithans since he came to Cumberland in 1976.
“He cut back at the beginning of the year,” Spangler said. “He sold the building to (nurse practioner) Dawn Wolford. Dr. Ranjithan was not only my boss, but my friend. He is a good person and a family man.”
Spangler is also retiring at the end of the year.
“He is an ordinary person,” Spangler said. “He spent so long at this and he is very devoted. It bothers him when people that have been with for years will have to go somewhere else. He’s never billed a dialysis patient. He takes the insurance only.”
Naragatnam Ranjithan said there are problems everywhere you go in the world.
“I’ve been very fortunate and I feel blessed,” he said. “We will stay here. I’m happy with Cumberland.”
Follow staff writer Greg Larry on Twitter @GregLarryCTN.