April 23, 2014

Profile: Dr. Kiran C. Patel

Great Expectations

A Tampa cardiologist-philanthropist lives and gives on a grand scale.

Florida Staff | 5/1/2006
The son also rises

Kiran Patel's late father, Chhotubhai Patel, came from a small, rural village called Mota Fofalia in Gujarat on the coast of west India. In the late 1940s, he and his wife, Savitaben, moved with their young daughter to a city called Kabwe in Northern Rhodesia, now Zambia. Their three sons were born in Kabwe. They named the eldest Kiran -- "rays of the sun."

In Kabwe, Chhotubhai Patel became a successful businessman and leader in the Indian community. He pushed the government to build a grade school for children of Indian descent. He raised his children to honor their Indian heritage and the Patel name. "My father's expectations were high," Patel says. "My father said, 'If you come in second, do not put your foot in this house.' "

Growing up in apartheid Africa, Kiran Patel fit into neither the white nor black worlds. At 12, barred from the local high schools for whites, he left home for a city 120 miles away to attend the country's only high school for Indians. In the face of discrimination, he says, "you always had to be better than your counterparts to succeed."

Patel studied in Zambia under the British educational system, earning degrees from Cambridge and the University of London before heading to his father's native Gujarat for medical school. There, he fell in love with a fellow med student named Pallavi Shah. She came from a family like his, with parents who were active in the community.

"He talked a lot about his father and how he grew up and he had this great vision and inspiration for what he wanted to do," says Pallavi, who married Patel in 1973. Following Hindu tradition, the young couple moved in with Kiran's family, setting up medical practices in Zambia. But that country would prove too limited for the couple. "We always wanted to grow and grow," she says. They moved to New York for graduate work at Columbia University, where he earned a specialization in cardiology, she in pediatrics. They got their Green Cards in 1976 -- on Thanksgiving Day.

» ""One of the philosophies I have is that if anybody can do it, I can do it better and cheaper."
-- Dr. Kiran C. Patel

Arriving in Florida

In 1982, the couple moved to Tampa with their three young children, drawn by Kiran Patel's brother Pradip, who owned a motel on Busch Boulevard. They were not readily accepted into Tampa's old-boy circles, and a fellow Indian cardiologist warned Patel he couldn't build a successful practice in the area. Patel soon proved him wrong. He was enormously popular among patients, according to one administrator with whom he worked, and had unusual business savvy.

Patel focused on small hospitals that had few specialists. He also began buying up other doctors' practices and encouraging other Indian doctors to move to Tampa and join him.

Tags: Tampa Bay

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