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Thursday, Dec. 28, 2017 12:00 am

He elevated the human side of medicine

SUMANTA MITRA: Aug. 3, 1938 - Nov. 27, 2017


Dr. Sumanta (Shuman) Mitra died as he had lived – peacefully. He died in his sleep next to his wife, Lynn.

Thankfully, he did not suffer or struggle. His death was unexpected and its cause uncertain. Yet Shuman’s life had a clear direction and his family, friends and colleagues find comfort in knowing he loved deeply, lived fully, achieved much and influenced many.

Shuman and Lynn had four children and nine grandchildren. At the memorial service, their son recounted a parable Shuman frequently told the children to illustrate that family was his central focus, no doubt encouraging them to integrate that philosophy into their own lives. At the memorial service, photo collages of family adventures, milestones and distinctions filled the room, prompting warm smiles and remembrances and buttressing the fact that family was, indeed, dearest to him.

I knew Shuman in another context – as part of his medical family. In 1992, as the senior practicing member of Central Illinois Kidney and Dialysis, Shuman recruited my husband to join the medical practice. Among my first Springfield memories was of Shuman and Lynn hosting a party in our honor to meet members of the medical community. Later, he and I would discuss public policy and politics. He held deep convictions about service to others, fairness and society’s responsibility to vulnerable people.

At the memorial service, my husband, Larry, credited Shuman as a key mentor in his development as a physician. He described a man of principle, whose warmth, smile and inner calm lives on in others. Others who loved, respected and admired Shuman described him as “a fine human being,” “respected and loved,” “a nice and welcoming soul,” “a wonderful man and great dad,” “the consummate professional,” “kind,” “compassionate” and a “fine gentleman.”

Dr. Mitra’s CV is lengthy, outlining a distinguished career as a clinician, researcher and teacher. He earned his medical degree at the University of Calcutta College of Medicine and completed his Internship and Residency training in England, New York and Michigan. He completed his Nephrology fellowship at Mount Sinai Hospital, Case Western Reserve School of Medicine in Cleveland, Ohio, before moving to Springfield in 1975 to join the faculty at SIU School of Medicine. There he was a Clinical Professor of Medicine and Chief of Nephrology.

Shuman was a founding member in 1982 of Central Illinois Kidney and Dialysis and Associates (CIKD) where he helped build a respected and thriving private practice until his retirement in 2008. As part of CIKD, he cared for chronically ill patients with kidney disease and renal transplantation for over 28 years in Springfield and 11 satellite units across central Illinois. His dedication to patients extended well beyond their immediate medical needs to ensuring their total care and well-being.

Shuman’s professional affiliations were extensive. But perhaps his most enduring professional medical legacy centers around his role as teacher and mentor of medical students and residents. He trained hundreds of physicians in Springfield to strive for technical excellence while always elevating the patient and the human side of medicine. I suspect among his most cherished honors was being selected by residents for SIU’s coveted Best Faculty Teacher of the Year award in 1985, 1994 and 2001.

Shuman had another equally important family – his Springfield Indian family. As past president of the Springfield Indian Association, Shuman celebrated the group’s 40th anniversary and its tremendous growth, beginning with 12 members and now serving nearly 400 individuals. Recalling the early days, Shuman said to the SJ-R, “When we came here, sometimes we felt kind of awkward, that we didn’t fit into society.” The group was formed to help build a social network for Indians in the area. Shuman believed that there was a binding tie between the U.S. and India because both countries are multi-ethnic, multireligious, and multicultural.

Those who came to pay their respects to Shuman and his family also included patients and families of patients, nurses, clinic and hospital staff and many colleagues. Others included friends of the family, children now grown that Shuman coached in soccer and Lynn’s education colleagues. Members of the International Soccer Club came dressed in uniform to highlight the game and camaraderie of the sport Shuman loved throughout his life.

Shuman’s life touched, shaped and influenced so many and, as is often said, he lives on in all of us. I am reminded of a Natalie Merchant song she wrote in honor of a friend. In part, she sings

Farewell today
Travel on now
Be on your way

Go safely there
And never worry, never care
Beyond this day

…And raise your voices up
Lift your loving cup
To his long life
Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of cups have been lifted in honor of Dr. Sumanta Mitra and Springfield should be proud to have had him as our own.

Sheila Stocks-Smith is the president/founder of the Urban Action Network, a 501(c) 3 organization working to advance community and economic development in Springfield’s urban core.  She is also a local social and political activist who is a regular contributor to Illinois Times.


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