The INFECTIOUS DISEASE SPECIALIST
BY DONNA CRARY
For Dr. Moti Ramgopal, being an infectious disease specialist is all about saving lives. He believes in improving the health of a community by taking care of it, one patient at a time. Driven by his altruism, a strong work ethic, and a lot of grit and compassion, he has been advancing infectious disease medicine for 20 years.
Ramgopal’s tireless devotion to providing quality medical care is a labor of love and has not gone unnoticed. He was awarded the Health Care Champion by Scripps Treasure Coast Newspapers; the Frist Humanitarian Award from HCA Hospitals; and the FSU Guardian of the Mission Award.
“I think medicine is beautiful. Practicing medicine is an extraordinary gift,” Ramgopal says. “I feel it’s a blessing.”
Born in Guyana, Ramgopal was introduced to infectious disease medicine as a young child when he developed meningitis. He became very sick, experienced horrific headaches, and almost died. He made a full recovery, but those early hospital memories etched a lasting impression on his life.
While in high school, he pondered which career path he should take. The son of a lawyer, he applied to law school, but he was also drawn to medicine, and applied there, too. When both schools announced his acceptance, he arrived at a fork in the road.
“For some strange reason, I gravitated towards medicine,” he notes. “I completely believe that’s the direction that a higher power wanted me to take. I ended up at the University of the West Indies on a government scholarship because of my credentials and grades. So, here I was at 19 going into medical school.”
After graduating from medical school in 1989, Ramgopal moved to the Bahamas where he began working with HIV patients.
“In that time period, if you had HIV, you were left to die,” he recalls. “There were patients there who nobody wanted to touch — nobody wanted to see those patients. It was like having the Ebola virus.”
It was during this time that the young physician was narrowing his specialty of medicine. At first, he chose the field of obstetrics and gynecology. Yet after working with HIV patients, he was moved in a different direction.
“I looked at these young people dying and I thought, ‘I want to work in there. This is what I want to do,’” he says. “And I think my inclination to help people took me to infectious disease because it’s a disease of poverty, people who have little support around them. It’s one of the few specialties where you can actually save lives.”
He received his residency training in internal medicine at Bon Secours Hospital in Michigan and completed his fellowship in infectious diseases at the University of Miami. And in 1999, he established his medical practice in Fort Pierce.
At that time, Fort Pierce had one of the highest HIV rates in Florida. Through his practice, Ramgopal tackled the disease head on by working with the health department and other organizations who were willing to help him. He came up with an innovative idea and created the Midway Research Center in 2002.
“I started looking at patients and saying, ‘Wow, a year from now, this patient could die. I need new treatment,’” he reflects. “So, I reached out to a company and started networking and I got one clinical trial, then two clinical trials. Now, we’ve done almost 250. What does that mean? That means the pharmaceutical companies are providing really good quality medications — phase two, phase three studies medications — that are available only in university centers which are now in our local community.”
The research center has provided cutting-edge work that is highly respected in the HIV world. It has also been life- and cost-saving to patients in our area. The clinical trials have delivered advanced medical treatment to more than 1,000 patients at a savings estimated to be $10 million to the community.
The Midway Research Center has branched out to treat other infectious diseases as well.
As a certified principal investigator for clinical research, Ramgopal’s many studies have been published in the New England Journal of Medicine, The Lancet, the Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndromes, and The Journal of Infectious Diseases.
Ramgopal has a big heart for reaching out to the underserved on the Treasure Coast, and in 2014 he founded the Midway Specialty Care Center. As medical director of the nonprofit organization, he was looking for strategies to deliver better infectious disease care for his patients. The clinic’s mission is to provide comprehensive care, including primary and specialty treatment, and access to behavioral health, gynecological, and nutritional services.
“It’s about the whole caring for people who are down, who have nothing, and lift them up and give them hope and inspiration,” he says. “It’s a strong philosophy of mine and it’s because, where I came from, a poor country and recognize now you’re in the wealthiest country in the world, how can you work and enhance people’s lives in a quality way?”
The clinic’s success is largely due to the teamwork of dedicated clinicians, says Ramgopal. The doctor is also a big believer in scheduling shorter waiting periods for his patients’ appointments.
“For my patients, I try to get you in as quickly as possible,” he points out. “There’s a lot of urgency with infectious diseases.”
Addressing mental health is another important part of patient care at the clinic.
“I understood very early that patients with HIV can be very depressed, and that’s not unusual,” he explains. “Can you imagine living with something for the next 30 to 40 years of your life and interfering with your daily functions with people and making you fearful? In the world of HIV, we recognize that if you’re not taking your medications, a lot of it is probably wrapped around mental health — depression, fear, anxiety, and substance abuse.”
The clinic also provides transportation for disadvantaged patients to make their appointments. Recently, a food bank was set up so the clinic’s patients can have access to nutritional food.
The Midway Specialty Care Center serves as a model for other infectious disease clinics in Florida. Other physicians throughout the state have reached out to Ramgopal to start up clinics for the less fortunate in their communities. In a collaborative agreement, 11 clinics have been established throughout Florida.
And not forgetting his roots, Ramgopal is also planning to set up a state-of-the-art infectious disease clinic in his homeland of Guyana. Collaborating with Guyanese hospitals, the University of Miami, and the Mayo Clinic, he wants to promote a new generation of people to take care of patients and motivate medical students.
“I think it’s an important time to put my footprint back there again, because it’s good to give back,” he says. “Being from Guyana made me appreciate life better. There’s a value to appreciate where you’re at. There’s a value of a greater force getting you there. It can be given today and taken away from you tomorrow. So you need to appreciate every day that you have and try to do the right thing on a daily basis.”
DR. MOTI RAMGOPAL
Occupation: Infectious disease physician
Lives in: Palm City
Education: Medical degree from the University of West Indies Faculty of Medical Sciences; residency in internal medicine at Bon Secours Hospital in Michigan; fellowship in infectious diseases from the University of Miami School of Medicine
Hobbies: Chess, cricket, volunteering, watching movies, sports, gardening
What inspires me: “Honesty, altruism, medical research.”
What most people don’t know about me: “I am passionate about my beliefs and access to medicine. I also believe failure and criticism can motivate change.”