Reprinted with permission from the Parkersburg News and Sentinel, 7/22/19
PARKERSBURG — One of the most well-known doctors in the area is celebrating a milestone this year. Medical oncologist Dr. Nik Shah has commemorated his 40th year in practice in Parkersburg. “It is the greatest journey,” he said of his time in the Mid-Ohio Valley. “I have been blessed to have been able to work the last 40 years here.” He came to Parkersburg in June 1979 and started his practice a month later on July 15. At the time, oncology was a growing field and he was considering positions in Boston and Albany, N.Y.
Shah had an interview with a group in Canton and his flight came through the airport in Wood County. He saw a small ad in a medical journal looking for a medical oncologist in the Parkersburg area. Shah’s flight was delayed and he arranged a meeting with Dr. Chandra Sekar, a driving force in establishing local cancer treatment services.
“I can be thankful for that meeting because it changed my life,” Shah said. “I was so lucky to be able to come here and start my practice.” Through that initial work they laid the groundwork for what followed in creating a cancer treatment team that had the support of Camden Clark. “This area did not have any kind of service then,” Shah said. It was appealing for Shah to come to a smaller community as opposed to a big city. “I came to the United States when I was 22 (from Ahemdabad, India) and spent six years in Boston and the last 40 years I am living in this community,” he said. “I am proud that I am here and at Camden Clark.” Camden Clark did not have a chemotherapy program when he came here in 1979, so patients went to Morgantown or Columbus. Over time, a chemotherapy program was developed in Parkersburg.
He credited Sekar and hospital administration in developing and expanding the Cancer Center program over the years. It now serves more than 300 patients going every week. “The most important thing is patients don’t have to travel far,” Shah said. “They are all given their treatment here. I have always thrived on what I called ‘quality care.'”
Shah has seen a number of advancements made in how cancer is treated that have resulted in higher survival rates. “With medical oncology, this is the best time to be in practice,” Shah said. “It has undergone a great evolution over time. In the early days there was only a limited number of drugs, but now a number of drugs are available and being developed. “We now have molecule-targeted drugs based on a patient’s immune system,” Shah said. “We have a number of choices in treating patients. Many drugs used now allow the patients to live longer and have a better quality of life.” Advances have been made in drugs to treat nausea, a side-effect of chemotherapy. While there is a stigma about nausea, it can be treated, he said.
“Vomiting is not as much of a problem anymore,” he said. “There is also better control over the complications that can arise to the point we can maintain the schedule for patients on chemotherapy.” Medical oncology is a multi-disciplined approach to cancer treatment that has undergone many developments in recent years, Shah said. “It improves the cure-rate for the patients and the complete remission rate for those who can’t be cured,” he said. “They can live longer and they can have a better quality of life.” Shah also has been involved in clinical trials of new drugs and treatments for local patients with a variety of cancers. “Quality of life has improved over the years,” he said. “Some of this has been successful here because of the clinical trials we are a part of.” He also developed relationships with doctors in Morgantown, the Cleveland Clinic, Ohio State University and elsewhere.
“That is very important to me in being able to have contacts where I can have an impact on a patient’s care,” he said. “We want to refer to the right people and learn from them. If I have a question, I can call and ask them.” Shah said he has tried to treat his patients like he would his own family. “I always felt I would provide 120 percent to my patients,” he said. “I want to thank my present patients, previous patients who are still living and those who have passed away and their families,” Shah said. “To give me this opportunity to work and to provide this care for them, they put their trust in me and I always felt like a part of their family. That has allowed me to take care of them and to provide the best care.” He also thanked his family for supporting him over the years, especially his wife Kalpana, who managed the business side of his practice when they first came here as well as their children Laxmi and Lanan. His daughter is a neurologist in Pittsburgh and his son is in his third year of medical school with an interest in possibly going into pediatrics. “We have raised a family here,” Shah said. “They are able to follow their dreams.” Shah is a grandfather with a granddaughter, Pari.
People who have worked with Shah said he has always been a knowledgeable and caring person. Martha Hesson, R.N. medical oncology, joined him in 1982. “When I came to work for him, I knew nothing about oncology,” she said. “He likes to educate. After the first week I worked here, I knew I liked it and this was something I wanted to do.” Hesson said she has learned so much from Dr. Shah over the years. “He has always been up to date,” she said. “He wants to make sure he provides the best quality of care for the patients. He is always learning and knowing what the new things are and made sure the patients were treated the best compared to anywhere else they would go in the United States.” Shah always works hard and is a perfectionist. “If you go to work for him, you need to be the same,” Hesson said.
Becoming a grandfather has made Shah be able to enjoy life more. “Over the last couple of years he has been excited about being a grandfather in that he is excited to come in and show pictures,” Hesson said. He is enjoying life a little more.
Sharon Roten, R.N., who works as the breast nurse navigator at Camden Clark started with Shah when he first started his practice. Shah credits her with showing him around the community and getting to know people in the beginning. “Career-wise, it has been the biggest privilege in my life,” Roten said of working with Shah. “He doesn’t give himself enough credit. He is like a book, a wealth of knowledge. Everything I have learned about medical oncology I learned from him.” She said the greatest thing she learned from him was to respect all patients. “He treats all of his patients like he would treat his own family in getting help if they need it,” she said. They made house calls to hospice patients and Roten said Shah was always caring in his approach. “He would hold their hand and tear up with them,” she said. “When we have to go into a room and give a hard diagnosis, it is hard and he really takes it to heart. He feels that and he feels deeply for his patients. He is the hardest worker that I know and he cares so much for his patients.”
Rennie Leavitt, director of cancer services at Camden Clark, said Shah has had a significant impact on this area. “The contributions Dr. Shah has made to this community as a well-respected medical oncologist cannot be assigned a value,” she said. “He has saved a tremendous number lives and improved the survival of countless patients over the years. His dedication to his practice and those under his care is exemplary.”
Dr. Gabor Altdorfer, a radiation oncologist, said Shah has improved the health of the patients of the Mid-Ohio Valley for 40 years. “He deserves all the thanks and congratulations for his service,” he said. “It has been my privilege to know and work with him for the past 10 years. I wish him many more years of active medical practice, so we can have our own Dr. Shah for years to come.”
Shah doesn’t know when or if he will ever retire, but he wants to continue to develop services at the cancer center. “I have no retirement plan,” he said. “I want this program to go to another level and do more clinical trials. As long as I am healthy, all of these things possible because of God and my beautiful wife.”
Regardless of what the future holds, the area will always be home, Shah said. “If I am going to retire, this is going to be my home for the rest of my life,” he said. “Nothing can be better than to live in this community.”
For more information, visit www.wvumedicine.org/camden-clark.