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Pakistani doctors in Chicago offer free community healthcare

Published Sep 26, 2012 04:46am


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Pakistani Doctor Aftab Khan listens to patient Shahida Farooq at the APPNA/PPS clinic for South Asian community in Chicago – Photo by Saman Sheikh for
Pakistani Doctor Aftab Khan listens to patient Shahida Farooq at the APPNA/PPS clinic for South Asian community in Chicago – Photo by Saman Sheikh for

Shahida Farooq – in her traditional shalwar kameez and chadar – bares her right arm for the physician to examine her swollen joints, which are diagnosed to carry a form of arthritis. She jokes that in her hometown of Karachi she has help around the house but here, she is the ‘maasi,’ maid herself. I ask her why, then, did she leave that life behind to be here in Chicago, wishing soon after that I had not.

A few months ago, her son was shot while working at a convenience store and the right side of his body was left paralysed. With glistening eyes, this strong breast cancer survivor breaks down as she recounts that she moved to the US to be with her son. His young wife, also here with her mother-in-law, stands beside her patiently. They drove almost an hour to the only clinic that provides free-of-cost premier healthcare to members of the community who have no health insurance.

The Pakistani Descent Physician Society of Illinois (PPS), under the umbrella of the Association of Physicians of Pakistani Descent of North America (APPNA), opened this free health clinic in 2009. APPNA, which has been in operation for 35 years, is headquartered in the Chicago suburb of Westmont, Illinois and has brought together motivated doctors sprinkled throughout the United States to volunteer at free clinics, perform charitable acts, and has also provided assistance in times of dire emergencies when natural disasters hit both the US and Pakistan.

As you drive away from the shimmering city of Chicago with gleaming towers of glass and concrete, the bluest waters of Lake Michigan and the America you see in the movies, some of the bitter truths of living in this country hit you like the wind on a cold, blustery day.

The scenic views of the third largest city in the country left behind, you reach the suburban town of Westmont, a few miles south of Chicago. Here you will find a diverse population of various ethnic backgrounds living side by side, taking advantage of this APPNA centre.

Open on Saturdays due to its nature of being run by volunteer physicians, medical students and community members who have other responsibilities during the week, the clinic caters to about 25 patients on a given day in the four hours it is open. With an increasing demand from the patients, PPS hopes to gain more support to start a mobile clinic and also begin providing services on Wednesdays in the future.

As I walked in, I was pleasantly surprised by the set up and warmth that emanated from the people and surroundings. Uzma and Afia, young student volunteers greet you at the reception with an eagerness to be helpful. Most of the volunteers are from Pakistan but there are some friendly faces from India and the US – all genuinely happy to contribute to this cause.

Clinics are no fun place to be, but as a smiling patient Tasneem Abbasi commends, he is highly satisfied with the treatment but also especially comfortable because he can speak to the doctors in Urdu. An environment of culturally infused respect and mannerisms, it was like walking into a family gathering. I happened to catch Dr Rizwan Farooqi, their coordinator and physician, crouching on the floor, holding the feet of an elderly patient.

Volunteers working at the Pakistani Descent Physician Society of Illinois clinic in Westmont, Chicago Area – Photo by Saman Sheikh for
Volunteers working at the Pakistani Descent Physician Society of Illinois clinic in Westmont, Chicago Area – Photo by Saman Sheikh for

The clinic is open to all and not just the South Asian community of whom approximately 40 per cent are without health insurance. While, almost a fifth of the entire population lives without it and has to rely on government-assisted methods or do without proper healthcare altogether.

Dr Aftab Khan, who stayed on his feet the entire time, running from patient to patient, explained most of the processes and workings of the clinic. In simple terms, you need insurance to receive medical care to balance the cost of treatment, since without insurance, those costs are ludicrously unaffordable. Prescribed medication and doctors’ visits alone cost thousands of dollars which no one can afford without health insurance.

Hence, the average cost of insurance for one family of four can easily be around $1,600 a month, which does not even begin to cover the cost of treatment and medicines.

PPS, with its network of providers alone is rendering services worth $250 million a year to needy patients. In America, the medical process is complicated and procedures are to be followed strictly. PPS helps, not only with initial consultation, tests and analyses, but also finds specialised care when needed.

In Pakistan, there is a different set of problems people deal with when it comes to healthcare, but they are mostly oblivious to the issues faced by many here, as Nusrat Jehan, a patient points out. She is another one of those countless elderly parents who join their children in the US and face adjustments of all sorts – especially the challenges associated with receiving regular medical attention.

These are legal immigrants whose children may be insured through their employers but cannot afford high costs of insurance policies for their parents which increase exponentially with age. Having health insurance has, sometimes, nothing to do with your income level. It can be very expensive depending on your age, place of employment and medical needs. Of course, it is another sad story when it comes to those without legal documentation or support from families.

This APPNA initiative, led by Dr Imtiaz Arain has transcended to other cities within the country has proven to be a step in the right direction. The clinic runs mainly on support from doctors in the US who have helped Pakistan earn the title of being a generous nation in the country, with their continued dedication and philanthropic efforts. It is time that more people devoted their attention to this issue and reached out to support this cause.

In his opinion, Dr Khan believes there should be such clinics available every few miles.

There are other free clinics but very few notable organisations serving South Asians in the Chicago area, who are the second largest in population after New York within the US.

The Indian American Medical Association Charitable Foundation Clinic is one such destination, commonly known as the Devon Clinic, where medical students from Northwestern University work with community physicians, residents, and students from other Chicago medical schools to help provide health care to uninsured and under-served patients.

The South Asian Medical Students from the University of Illinois (SAMSA) are also providing quality health care and health education to South Asians in the community. SAMSA has a partnership with the Indian American Medical Association (IAMA), who help build connections amongst medical professionals and students across the entire city to volunteer at free clinics in the multi-ethnic neighbourhood surrounding Devon Avenue in Chicago.

For Dr Khan, the paid work he does during the week does not come close to the satisfaction he feels when a patient thanks him at the end of a consultation.

Shahida, wipes her tears as she gets up to leave the office, turns to Dr Khan and gives him a ‘dua,’ a simple prayer while thanking him.

Saman Sheikh is a journalist based in Chicago.


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Comments (79) Closed

Iqbal khan Sep 26, 2012 05:09am
Bravo Dr khan and his team, I am very proud of you guys.
Amer Sep 26, 2012 06:28am
keep up the good work. Proud to a Pakistani today. Really wish this service is extended to other cites in the US. and other countries.
Tamour Shahid Sep 26, 2012 01:31pm
This such a good thing for the community! Keep the work up!
M.Asif Gondal Sep 26, 2012 01:37pm
I only say that Pakistani Doctors, Students and helpers are performing a religious service to their country men living abroad. MAy Allah keep them prosperous and give them more than they have now... AAMIN
Qaiser Bakhtiari Sep 26, 2012 04:55am
Given the right environment with implementation of law and order.Pakistanis can and will achieve anything. Unfortunately our whole country has been hijacked by militants and half wits.
Krishna Sep 26, 2012 06:03am
Healthcare in countries like Pakistan and India are way ahead than in US where everything related to health is expensive...Where american people who are poor and un-insured have no access to healthcare.. Atleast we in India and Pakistan have free government hospitals where we can expect atleast low-quality healthcare delivery with long queues. In the so called developed country USA, un-insured people don't even have access to hospitals, clinics etc.. Quality Healthcare in US is only for the rich people and is completely dictated by insurance companies... Quality healthcare means, affordable healthcare with easy access to all strata of society irrespective of their socio-economic status.. I was in US for 4 years while doing my masters and had my regular health insurance, while I am a chronic migraine sufferer, everytime I went to a hospital even for a regular fever, the insurance company would reject my reimbursement saying that it is pre-existing condition. So basically any fever that I had was somehow strangely connected to my pre-existing migraine condition and my reimbursement denied. I was fed up with healthcare in US, now I am happily living in India with easy access to healthcare, with no insurance companies dictating the terms of healthcare delivery...I request the moderator to publish my comment, since it is so relevant to the article and also reflects the problems that I faced with US healthcare delivery...
farmerdr Sep 26, 2012 05:54am
These guys should be appreciated for the good that they do. This story made me feel proud to be Pakistani.
NKhan Sep 26, 2012 05:34am
Excellent work keep it up.
Murtaza Jamal Sep 26, 2012 02:52pm
What you say here Krishna is also sadly true.
Parus Sep 27, 2012 10:14am
Superb...God bless you...keep it up
S. Israr Ali Sep 26, 2012 06:37am
Free clinics are not so needed in cities like Chicago but are more needed in Pakistan and India which too direly in rural areas from where these doctors instead of serving run away leaving the humanity to suffer.
Samad Chaudhry Sep 26, 2012 06:52am
Good luck - My sincere wishes for someone decided to serve humanity. Congratulaulations. God Bless Samad London
M. Shahid Yousuf Sep 26, 2012 01:19pm
APPNA or Association of Physicians of Pakistani Descent of North America has been sponsoring free eye camps together with LRBT for years. Some 12 eye camps in all the 4 provinces are scheduled. Facebook page can be viewed for all the free eye camps in Pakistan held so far. For the past 2 years there has been a free clinic in Munirabad, for the villagers. There is an account of that in the Facebook page. You have to scroll down.There have been 121 homes made and distrbuted free to Munirabad (Muzzaffargarh Dist,), 40 homes to the villagers of Sadiqwalla, some 100 homes in Sujawal, Sind. This is just a very small portion of what APPNA has done in the past 35 years.
S. Israr Ali Sep 26, 2012 07:01am
What a fine human gesture at the cost of suffering millions in home countries!
S. Israr Ali Sep 26, 2012 07:05am
Keep on running from human miseries by taking refuge in greener pastures. Good luck to proud Pakistani insensities.
Sher Ghazi Sep 26, 2012 07:05am
God Bless you all and your family. Hats off for your services
Saadia Sep 26, 2012 08:46am
Well said Israr, Pakistani doctors who are living abroad should come once in a while to Pakistan and serve their people for free, as our poor people who cannot afford to pay a doctor fee are really in need of this kind of humanity service. I know some Gora doctors who come to Pakistan and offer their services for free but I hope one day our doctors will come to their homeland and do the same.
manghirmalani Sep 26, 2012 08:46am
only to Pakistani or every one
mehboob Sep 26, 2012 08:47am
on the other side see what these doctors are doing in Pakistan, they do not show any sympathy to people, they are not willing to go to rural areas, most of the time they are on strikes, doing their private practice in private hospitals, they are never available for the oridinary patients to check them in their Govt hospitals. How many doctors are doing the same here in Pakistan???
B. Ally Sep 26, 2012 09:19am
This is great work helping those who are in real need. Carry on doing it.
Syed Sep 26, 2012 09:24am
Gr8 job
Ahmed Sep 26, 2012 10:34am
Ali When was the last time you were encouraged by people around you for doing something priceless?
Taha Sep 26, 2012 03:08pm
Government need to supply them security, I know many who are ready to come and who come do there work and no media no press even give them a minute of publicity, the rest are threatened by Mafia etc.. Dont forget Docs have families too and they are humans as well who worry about there children etc
jamal Sep 26, 2012 04:16pm
the ga chapter for appna held a fair two weeks ago where it offered from preventive health screening to all . keep the good work up . america needs to see this side as well but we do it for a higher calling .
Nina Sep 26, 2012 04:29pm
Typical Indian. Couldn't resist a jab at Pakistan on seeing something good about Pakistan, especially that its in the US.
karim Sep 26, 2012 04:42pm
Good move by good folk. God bless you all.
Yawar Sep 26, 2012 04:45pm
Thank you Dr. Aftab and the rest of the volunteers for accepting and helping poor patients regardless of their ethnic or religious affiliations. May Allah reward you in this life and i the hereafter for your noble efforts.
saprasla Sep 26, 2012 05:19pm
I am proud of this work. We need more such example to change the perception of Pakistan in the West. God bless all volunteers!
saprasla Sep 26, 2012 05:22pm
I humbly disagree with you. I understand in terms of numbers, there are more people suffering in South Asian cities, however, real poverty also exist in the West and most often people like the old lady suffer. So it is great and noble work by PPS. Please appreciate them.
Fatima Sep 26, 2012 07:20pm
6412 S Cass Ave Westmont IL. 60559 Phone: 630-219-0005 Fax: 630-219-0017 Email: Timings are 9-1 pm Saturdays. You need to call the number and they should be able to give you more information. I hope that helps.
zafar Sep 26, 2012 07:07pm
May GOD bless you for your good work. Let us pray that more people can participate in such worthy cause, displaying the true caring spirit that Islam teaches, regardless of who the recipient is. To Saman Sheikh, thank you for presenting such a heart warming story
Murtaza Sep 26, 2012 11:37am
I am proud of my friend Dr. Aftab Khan.
Tariq Sep 26, 2012 10:23pm
There are a few such clinics operating in the Dallas Fort Worth area as well. I volunteer at such a clinic myself, which is open every saturday. We are currently seeing about 8 patients in a 2 hour session each saturday. Mashallah, the muslim communities in USA are very active in such invaluable and highly rewarding conducts.
BEA Sep 26, 2012 10:32pm
hope your mum gets better soon .
Masood Hussain Sep 26, 2012 01:36pm
While admiring the work being done by Appna freely wish to state that haelth care in pakistan is not that bad as decried by some of the friends. I am a retired medico,was working in Pakistan for long time had always found medical fraternity ready to hellp the poor. Strikes and other difficulties with the Govt. may be kept apart.
Tahir Naseer Sep 26, 2012 07:39am
Standing ovation for these guys!
ali Sep 27, 2012 03:38am
Dr Imtiaz Arian and Dr Aftab Khan and all volunteers are providing excellent service to mankind in that highly commercialized society where both medicare and medical insurance is one of the most expensive in the world. May God bless them.
TJ Rao Sep 27, 2012 04:20am
I pray Allah bless you all, the staff, the doctors and every stake holder, a fulfillment and peace in their dreams. I pray you all live healthier, happier and a grateful life many times. Amen Summ Amen. My regards to you all.
Nadeem Sep 27, 2012 04:30am
Nina Sep 27, 2012 02:04pm
Waqas your comments are welcome but what proof do you have that the majority of Indians dont hate us. All the evidence certainly suggests that.
Navaid Sep 27, 2012 05:49am
Please help Aftab in whatever way he likes, praising just does a little.
Syed Rizvi Sep 26, 2012 09:59am
Problem with us is, we always try to find negative side of the stories .. They are living in west their families are there and they are doing amazing work for the community God bless them ... U don't know why they left Pakistan, please do not jump to the conclusion without any evidence ... Instead u should have said I hope this story will inspire doctors in our communities, having said that we have people like Edhi, chepa Adeeb Rizvi etc cherish them work for them, support them.
danish Sep 26, 2012 09:56am
Great job,pakistan zaindabad
eJazz Sep 26, 2012 01:52pm
you mean "selective Freedom of Speech"?
Miriam Imran Sep 26, 2012 11:32am
Very well said Syed Rizvi.
AM Sep 27, 2012 05:37pm
APPNA Chapters are holding these clinics all over the USA, I am surprised why only Chicago Chapter made the headlines. I should also mention that APPNA also has multiple projects in Pakistan, to encourage and support the local healthcare providers.
Asma Sep 27, 2012 06:00pm
amazing job by amazing people, indeed angels on earth
Jalal Khan Sep 27, 2012 01:42pm
Ajay, This is a social work for people who cannot afford the insurance, let the good work continue. There is no free healthcare in this rich country!!! Dr. Arain and Dr. Aftab may Allah bless you and keep up the good work.
S. Israr Ali Sep 27, 2012 01:52pm
Excellent Maria! This is what you wrote required of Pakistanis who by one way or other could be able to come over and finding them landed on state alimony are suffering from several complexes or weary of their actions to come out. In contrast to Pakistan where only one member of family earns and rest live mostly happily with respect and dignity on their sole income, here I too have seen whole families engaged mostly on menial jobs entailing long working hours like cleaning, washing, barbar or cooking jobs or in fruads as you also mentioned still feel hard their ends to meet. Here these people suffer from various syndroms and to overcome that find easy option to start putting all blame on Pakistan, its nation, ridicule it in various ways, insult it or abuse it. Here lies the fault line. Pakistan is a sovereign state, great country and its nation has dignity and respect like any other country or nation of this beautiful diverse world of God. Your comment is very balanced, realistic and highly commendable.
Jamil Rashid Sep 26, 2012 08:02am
Salam, and keep up the good work. There actually is another clinic around for quite while in San Bernardino County, California. Manned by Pakistani volunteers and Doctors. Its completely free and offers a host of med services. Its right next to a mosque.
Uza Syed Sep 26, 2012 08:02am
Thank you all for doing what you are doing. Pakistan must be proud of its children like you all for caring and the services you are providing to its children in need. I love you and respect you and pray for you.
Imran Sep 26, 2012 02:00pm
What makes you think they don't ? Explain.
afzal Sep 27, 2012 06:49am
My heart felt prayers for the doctors and all participants of the program for contributing their very valuable and much needed services selflessly. This shall definitely go a long way in forming a soft image of muslims and Pakistanis in the US. Contribution of Saman Sheikh in highlighting the story is commendable which may motivate others to participate in such activities.
Asad Sep 27, 2012 07:52am
Excellent work! APPNA should also consider supporting (on technical grounds) and supervising the clinic / medical centers / hospitals in Pakistan as well, so that Pakistani institutions can have the required guidance, support and advice from the specialists abroad. This will massively multiply their reach beyond borders. I can further explain the idea and volunteer, though i am not a doctor or form the field, but i do partner with a medical center being run on charity in Karachi.
Ahtasham Sep 27, 2012 07:54am
Excellent Jobs Done By These Doctors!
sajida Sep 27, 2012 12:36am
May Allah Shower His Choicest Blessings on you all for helping the sick and needy.I hope we have more people like you here and in Pakistan.
Ali Khan Sep 27, 2012 12:29am
APPNA Clinic 6412 S Cass Ave Westmont IL. 60559
Ash Sep 27, 2012 01:25pm
I woulld be applauding these Doctors if they did the same in Pakistan. Where they have come form. That is where it is needed the most!!! Please how easily led people are when they see something at face value!! Its is not completely free of change and out of good will/humanitarian will. They receive there pay pack from governing body the clinic is run by.
Ajay Sep 27, 2012 01:12am
why not carry this work in Pakistan where your work is more needed...why chose a western rich country..
Kam Sep 27, 2012 01:19am
Dawn admin, this has no place here.
Habib Sep 26, 2012 06:08pm
In the US, doctors are financially secure and independent. In Pakistan, in training doctors cannot survive without private practice. Doctors do not get any perks (unlike CSS cadre or the military, who get houses, domestic help, cars, plane tickets). And, at the very least, the education prospects in rural areas are abysmal. In short, they literally cannot afford to do what the doctors in the US are doing. Otherwise, why would these doctors leave for the US in the first place.
Habib Sep 26, 2012 06:13pm
How did this topic come up? Do you have evidence to suggest that these doctors are against Freedom of Speech? Was it something in the article which the rest of us missed? Have you done an advanced degree in Free Speech, and you bring it up as it is your specialist interest? Seriously, enlighten us, oh Great Mystical Indian!
Saadia Sep 26, 2012 06:21pm
Thank you Shahid for this information, this is exactly I meant, why not to help the poor people of your country in need. And yes, there should be no excuses that they have families abroad so they cannot help poor communities of Pakistan.
Maria Sep 27, 2012 02:23am
It is disturbing to hear the elderly woman comment how she would have hired help in Karachi, implying but in the US she is the "massi" herself. It is this type of talk and behaviour which is the undoing of the Muslim community in North America. Rather than just quietly work and build a future, countless Muslims live on social assistance or engage in insurance fraud. I understand that the patient interviewed for the article had unfortunate family circumstances but it still hasn't taught her to speak appropriately. I work in the social care sector in North America and I see countless Muslims living on state social assistance which is state khayrat taken from other peoples tax dollars. They always try to pretend that they are from such and such important family back home with so many servants but no one cares in North America. Until Muslims start to respect their own societies and the nations they come from no one will treat them with due respect. They must learn that all human beings are equal and should be respected.
Ali Abbas Sep 26, 2012 03:31pm
Thank you Raghbir for showing us the light. Off course India and Indians are perfect as you have no religious extremism and intolerance in your country. I was hoping that you would give us poor Pakistanis some lessons in free speech. While you are at it also tell Kasmiris to stop voicing their opinions on streets. Make sure your Indian military also teach them some lessons, little bit of extra judicious killing to teach these savages some lesson is justified. Please do not forget that free speech do not apply to these Muslims living in India. How outrageous of them to ask the right to vote and self govern, they must learn and follow Indian defination of free speech.
qaiser Sep 26, 2012 05:25pm
Can anyone tell me the exact address and timing so that I could take my mother as she does not have insurance and needs to see a doctor, she is a diabetic and has stunts. Thanks'
S Sep 26, 2012 07:07pm
It's open on Saturdays only from 9am to 1 pm
Waqas Sep 26, 2012 07:39pm
To my Pakistani friends: as everyone can see, it just takes one inappropriate comment to destroy the mood/camaraderie/peace; take your pick, I am sure the comment was intentionally made thoroughly realizing its effect in igniting animosity, Please note it is not a reflection of Indians in general: we have no reason to hate you, we dont consider you as enemy and most importantly we want you to progress, it would make us happy to see a bright and prospering Pakistan. We of course are ashamed of Godra, Narendra modi and the likes of Thackeray, we wish we could eleminate them.
Imran Sep 26, 2012 07:41pm
Well, Raghbir.............Raghbir? We are waiting for your enlightening response.
Iqbal Hussain Sep 26, 2012 03:22pm
U R such a narrow minded person that you cannot visualize a positive side of a service rendered by our countrymen. Brother, first create a positive environment for these professionals to work in Pakistan and then make such stupid comments. They had to leave the country for safety, better future and a positive working environment. You guys killed some 26 doctors in the year 2002 to 2010, do you know that.??. Do you know how many years it takes to 'create a doctor'..??? Thank these professionals who are serving the less fortunate members of our community here in the West and pls. do not show yr ignorance in the media. Thanks. Iqbal Hussain.(USA)
Adeen Sep 28, 2012 03:44am
inspinring. Best of luck.
syed fahad Sep 26, 2012 12:18pm
Rare for DAWN to bring something positive out of our country men. I used to think Dawn is kind of against everything we do.
adam memon Sep 26, 2012 02:30pm
God bless you people and make you people always happy and healthy all the time.You people are doing great job.Keep it up.Our prayers are with you.
S Sep 26, 2012 07:05pm
APPNA 6414 S. Cass Avenue Westmont, IL 60559-3209 Phone: (630) 968-8585 Fax: (630) 968-8677 E-mail: Website: :
ahmed Sep 26, 2012 02:22pm
Aftab is a good human being. He lives far away but he still comes to help.
Raghbir Dhillon Sep 26, 2012 08:41am
Great work but do they appreciate the values and traditions of the USA ( including the Freedom of Speech) !
ayaz hussain Sep 26, 2012 09:03am
May Allah bless you all.
Ghalib Khan Sep 26, 2012 09:45am
Great work,
earth file Sep 26, 2012 09:46am
mentioned in the article that they are helping people of all teh communities.