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He is helping young Americans eat healthy

Last updated on: June 19, 2014 13:10 IST

He is helping young Americans eat healthier

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Arthur J Pais

In the eleventh part of a series on Presidential Scholars, Arthur J Pais profiles Karthik W Rohatgi who is helping low-income children to eat more fruits and vegetables AND promoting small-scale farmers.

The first time Karthik W Rohatgi went to Dr Vidhur S Mahadeva's unpretentious but colourfully furnished house, he merely seemed like a fun-loving doctor who got along well with kids.

'He could make a bowtie out of a dollar bill, and his magic tricks left me utterly perplexed,' Karthik, from Reno, Nevada, wrote in his Presidential Scholarship essay.

'I still remember the first question he asked me: "Which President is on the ten-dollar bill?"

Of course, I knew the story of the ten-dollar bill wasn't so simple, but what I didn't know at the time was that Dr Mahadeva's own story wasn't quite so straightforward either.'

Dr Mahadeva once operated a software business in Singapore.

His quest for a more fulfilling career led him to medical school and then residency at the Mayo Clinic.

Even as a doctor, when he could have been earning handsome sums as a cardiologist or a surgeon, he instead opened a medical clinic for low-income families in Reno, Karthik wrote.

His Wells Avenue Clinic charges on a sliding scale so that families can afford to pay for all necessary examinations and treatment.

Getting to know Dr Mahadeva inspired Karthik to launch Farm Fresh for Kids in January 2011, to help low-income children get started on eating more fruits and vegetables, while also promoting small-scale farmers.

"By distributing vouchers for farmers' market produce -- instead of supermarket food -- the same dollar could help both a family in need and a struggling small-scale grower," Karthik said.

His strategy has been to distribute nutrition education and farmers' market vouchers through doctors' offices.

Dr Mahadeva agreed to distribute FFFK's coupons.

He also showed Karthik what a compassionate and concerned doctor does.

"He showed me the day-to-day operations of his clinic and let me observe his interactions with patients," Karthik said.

"He explained to me how he examines their entire life situation whether this means learning about their health insurance, asking what family problems they're having, or even examining the quality of their diet."

Dr Mahadeva's giving back to the community motivated Karthik, who is going to Johns Hopkins to study medicine and public health.

"I learned keeping people healthy is one of the most fundamental ways to help others," Karthik said.

"However, giving back through medicine is not simply about opening up a practice. It is about maximising the benefits to the community and delivering treatment to those who need it most.

I hope to follow in Dr Mahadeva's footsteps, so that someday I can do more for the community than simply providing nutrition education."

'I feel very fortunate,' Karthik wrote in his essay, 'to have found a guiding light like Dr Mahadeva who puts his patients' well-being before his own.

His pure charity has inspired me not only to start my own non-profit endeavour, but to pursue a career that will let me dedicate myself to the community around me.'

Giving back is not new to Karthik. Ever since he was in elementary school, his parents instilled in him a desire to give back to others.

At first he simply learned about charities and chose one to donate some money to. He also read up on his local food pantry, HomeFront, and about UNICEF and Asha for Education.

In third grade, he began collecting donations and non-perishable food for HomeFront every Halloween.

'A few years later, my brother and I decided to hold a yard sale to buy a goat for a Central Asian family, through Save the Children,' he wrote in his essay.

'Our sale lasted several days as we worked with neighbourhood friends to reach the goat's $100 price tag. Before long, I was ready to start my own non-profit.'

Over the past three years, Farm Fresh for Kids has been able to help hundreds of families.

"We do more than simply provide fruits and vegetables," said Karthik, who is also conscious of America's obesity epidemic.

"We also distribute nutrition and cooking guides, and some fun kids' activities.

"These materials support and encourage families in pursuing a healthy diet."

About 200 families benefit from the charity during the summer.

Rohatgi hopes it will continue when he leaves for Baltimore, and he hopes he can start a chapter there too.


Read part one of the series here

Part two here

Part three here

Part four here

Part five here

Part six here

Part seven here

Part eight here

Part nine here

Part ten here


Image: Karthik W Rohatgi