Five years after a vehicle rollover left him a quadriplegic a Sarnia man has returned to his hometown to work as a much-needed doctor.
Dr. Amit Rahalkar recently joined the medical staff at Bluewater Health and is one of the few physicians in Southern Ontario that specialize in endocrinology.
“I think I’m quite happy here now that I have a practice set up,” said Rahalkar, 35. “(There’s) no real shortage of demand in this community.”
Life was grand for the Northern Collegiate grad in the summer of 2014. He had finished medical school, earned an internal medicine certificate, and was halfway through a placement in endocrinology in Halifax.
But that changed instantly when his car was T-boned on a Cape Breton highway.
The Aug. 1 collision rolled Rahalkar’s car, collapsed the roof and fractured his neck, leaving him paralyzed from the neck down.
The man he was dating, Jeff MacPherson, who was in the passenger seat, emerged unscathed.
“Then, the question was, ‘What the hell do you do?’” asked Rahalkar, who spent two years in recovery and adjusting to life in a wheelchair.
MacPherson and Rahalkar’s classmates and colleagues urged him to stick with his training.
“It took a lot longer than it should have… but I did finish it,” he said, noting the two-year placement wound up taking five.
“Going into it I knew that everything I had to do would be completely off the beaten path. There are very few other quadriplegic physicians in the country, and I don’t think there are any other endocrinologists.”
Rahalkar’s wheelchair connects to computers via Bluetooth and he uses its directional joystick to control the mouse. Dictation software allows him to take notes, and an assigned nurse provides assistance when examining patients.
“Endocrinologists don’t do very many procedures. In fact, these days they don’t really do any at all,” he said, noting most of the work is ordering tests and procedures and interpreting results. “In many other specialities I would not have been able to continue.”
Endocrinology is a branch of medicine that deals with glands and hormones. Most of his patients are diabetic, have osteoporosis or thyroid problems, or are undergoing hormonal therapy for gender dysphoria, he explained.
Just a handful of the endocrinologists are certified in Canada each year, he noted, and most set up shop in the Toronto area.
The patient wait list to see him is currently about one month.
MacPherson and Rahalkar, who married shortly after the accident, have a home just outside Sarnia. MacPherson has a background in business management and helps run the Vidal Street practice.
Rahalkar’s mother, Dr. Mangal Rahalkar, was a family physician in Sarnia who retired in 2015.
“Generally, I’ve gotten good feedback,” he said. “I haven’t heard from anybody that my physical limitation is too much of a barrier to providing reasonable patient care, and I think that’s the important part.”
Rahalkar attributes much of his success to the dedication of his husband.
“I kept thinking it was possible and Jeff kept telling me it was possible, so we made it possible. We made it work.”