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From India to Missouri to Kansas

Tallgrass Creek couple took the road less traveled

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June 28th, 2016
Drs. Sharad and Shalini Gavankar stand beneath a beautiful piece of art featuring the Om, a sacred and spiritual symbol in Indian religions.

Drs. Sharad and Shalini Gavankar stand beneath a beautiful piece of art featuring the Om, a sacred and spiritual symbol in Indian religions.

Though many Tallgrass Creek neighbors live far from their childhood homes, one couple, in particular, stands out. For 35 years, Drs. Shalini and Sharad Gavankar lived in India, two continents, and more than 8,000 miles from Overland Park, Kans., home of Tallgrass Creek. 

The couple met in Mangalore, India, where they were both attending medical school. After graduating, Shalini’s post-graduate specialty was gynecology and obstetrics, and Sharad specialized in internal medicine, dermatology, and pharmaceuticals. The couple married in 1964 and both worked as physicians in India before coming to the United States in 1980. 

“Our daughter Shobha was born with a cleft palate, and though she had surgery in India, we knew of better treatment in Kansas City, so we came here,” says Shalini. 

Shobha’s surgery was successful, and the Gavankars continued their education: Sharad at the Western Missouri Mental Health Center, and Shalini at the University of Kansas School of Medicine, in Kansas City, Kans.  

“Our medical credentials were respected in the United States but required more training to practice here, so we both chose to do residencies in psychiatry,” says Sharad. “It turned out to be an interesting choice.” 

Unique experiences  

Shalini completed a four-year residency at the University of Kansas and became a psychiatrist at the Osawatomie, Kans., state hospital. After two years, she was recruited by the Federal Bureau of Prisons and became the only female psychiatrist in the maximum security prison in Springfield, Mo. She counseled only men, many of whom were convicted murderers.

“Every day was unpredictable,” says Shalini, a psychiatrist with the prison system for six years. “I was dealing with people who had much heartbreak and madness in their lives.” 

Many of the prisoners Shalini counseled called her “Mother India,” which for them was a term of endearment. 

“They knew I was sincere and I cared,” says Shalini. “There were times I was afraid, but mostly I was trying to understand and help.”

During that time and after finishing his psychiatric residency in western Kansas, Sharad opened a practice in Joplin, Mo., 72 miles from Springfield. He counseled children, adults, seniors, and patients with drug and alcohol problems. Some years later, Sharad and Shalini retired and moved to Lee’s Summit, Mo., to be closer to their daughter’s family in Olathe, Kans. 

“Looking back, both Shalini and I feel lucky to have had the opportunity to help those around us,” says Sharad. “We’ve seen people become functional with our help, and there is no better feeling.” 

Gratitude and appreciation

In addition to their daughter, the Gavankars have a son, Sandeep, a physician practicing sports medicine in North Carolina. They also have three grandchildren. 

Earlier this year, they celebrated their 51st wedding anniversary and spent three months in India visiting family and friends. Though they will always love India, they appreciate their adopted country.  

“There is much to love in America,” says Shalini. “If you work hard, this is a place where you can have success and dignity.” 

The Gavankars also love Tallgrass Creek and are often seen exercising in the fitness center and enjoying water aerobics classes. Sharad is also active on the community’s resident-driven health and wellness committee.

“There are so many things to do here, such nice people, and 24/7 medical care,” says Sharad. “When we leave, we worry about nothing. We looked around at other places, but this was, by far, the best choice for us.”  

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