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Spirit of Meridian: Dr. Saber Bahrami

Mar 11

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Monday, March 11, 2013  RssIcon

Dr. Saber Bahrami is a remarkable man. Just ask anyone who knows him. Born in Afghanistan, his youth was spent in abject poverty. He was the only one of his mother’s children to survive infancy.

His widowed mother and her brother somehow orchestrated an education for Dr. Bahrami. Once in high school, he eagerly participated in a youth exchange program, spending a year in Missouri.

It was during this time in his life that he managed to get some paid work and, as the story goes, he did not spend even a penny. Instead, he sent it all home to his mother and uncle to help support them.

These kinds of selfless acts would become Dr. Bahrami’s trademark stamp as a physician, philanthropist and friend. He is the 2013 Spirit of Meridian Community winner.

After his high school exchange experience, Dr. Bahrami returned to Afghanistan and by 1980, despite great turmoil in his country, he completed medical school. But Dr. Bahrami’s personal hardships were far from over. It is around this time that he was imprisoned by the Russians for practicing his religion.

His wife, Bibi, tells the story that someone of influence wrote a letter on his behalf, which helped him get released from prison. However, he soon learned that it was likely that he would be arrested again, so he fled the country.

Living as a refugee in Pakistan, Dr. Bahrami met Bibi, where her family, too, had fled.

Dr. Bahrami came to the U.S. to further his medical education, then to Muncie in 1986 to begin his residency in family practice medicine at what is now IU Health Ball Memorial Hospital.

Dr. Jeff Bird, Chief Medical Officer and Vice President of Operations for IU Health Ball Memorial Hospital, has known Dr. Bahrami since early in his own residency.

“He was one year in front of me,” Dr. Bird recalled. “We developed a close relationship. He was one of my teachers and mentors. He always has played an important part in my life.”

It was the team at the Geriatric Psychiatric Hospital, a collaborative effort between Meridian Health Services, and IU Health Ball Memorial Hospital, who nominated Dr. Bahrami for the Meridian Spirit Award.

“Saber is one of those family physicians that has that keen knack about him to connect with patients,” Dr. Bird said.

SINCERE. Dr. Saber Bahrami comforts patient Doris. Bahrami is the 2013 Spirit of Meridian Community winner.

“He is absolutely one of the most genuine people I’ve ever met in my life,” he said. “Patients are continually reassured by the care that he provides. It’s easy to understand how he feels about you. You can feel the compassion he has for patient care.”

Dr. Steve L. Rousseau, a colleague at American Health Network, agreed.

“Dr. Bahrami has had a profound impact on me both personally and professionally. His valued advise on personal issues such as how to deal with growing children to his consistent support and encouragement professionally have meant the world to me. His input was invaluable and greatly influenced the coming and progress of AHN in our community.”

To Dr. Bird, it makes perfect since for Dr. Bahrami to receive this year’s honor.

“I think the whole philosophy of how Meridian treats their patients is perfectly congruent to what Dr. Barhami and his practice is all about,” Dr. Bird said. “It’s that mind, body, spirit . . . treating the whole person. The spirit of Meridian is the spirit of Dr. Bahrami.”

Gary Garofolo, Meridian’s Director of Systems Services, is a longtime friend and colleague. He, too, remembers the early years in residency.

“He approached learning about psychiatry with incredible enthusiasm,” Garofolo said. “I remember that it seemed as though he could not learn enough fast enough, as though he had to take advantage of every minute so as not to squander the opportunity.

“I know today that this was not only because he cares about the mental health needs of others, but also because he had learned to cherish every opportunity that had come his way, often through the sacrifice for others.”

In 2002, Garofolo and the Bahramis formed a nonprofit organization called the Afghan Women and Kids Education and Necessities, Inc. or AWAKEN.

In the last decade, they’ve built a school, provided vocational and literacy education to women in nine different villages, and built a health clinic. To learn more about AWAKEN, go to the website:

“I now clearly understand how this is paying back a debt to all of those who provided loving care and support to both of them,” Garofolo wrote in a tribute to Dr. Bahrami. “By being benevolent, accepting, and respectful of others in spite our diversity, and helping others recognize that despite the ugliness and adversity in this world, there is also a great deal of beauty, dignity and joy to be shared.”

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