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Sniper-scarred US glued to Indian doctor

Washington, Oct. 22: Elections to the US Congress, crucial for the White House agenda, are barely a fortnight away, but it is the calm, white-haired visage of a doctor from Andhra Pradesh which is frequently on TV screens in America’s capital area.

Rao R. Ivatury, former intern and resident surgeon at the All-India Institute of Medical Sciences in New Delhi, has pushed off TV screens North Korea’s reclusive leader Kim Jong II who last week admitted to having a nuclear weapons programme.

And Saddam Hussein, who has been demonised in the US media over several months, not to speak of the latest car bomb in Israel, which would normally be the big story on US news channels.

Since Saturday night, Ivatury, trauma surgeon in the Virginia Commonwealth Medical College Hospital, has been attending to the victim of the fourteenth shooting by a sniper who has been terrorising residents in and around Washington.

A victim in a fifteenth incident this morning in Maryland, bordering Washington, died after being rushed to hospital.

Rao, who graduated from P.R. Government College, Kakinada, and got his medical degree from Andhra Medical College, Visakhapatnam, grabbed media attention here when he firmly rejected suggestions that the sniper’s bullet be removed from the abdomen of the thirteenth victim, whom police have not identified for reasons of privacy.

“It is not my priority,” Ivatury calmly told a frenzied media and others who were eager to put the bullet through forensic tests to establish a connection between earlier shootings and the 37-year-old victim whom the Indian doctor was caring for.

Ivatury explained that the bullet had splintered the victim’s spleen, pancreas, one kidney and intestines. Two thirds of his stomach had to be removed in two surgeries. The doctor said the victim will need three or four more operations.

“He still has a long way to go. It will be a stormy course,” Ivatury said with Oriental calm, abjuring medical phrases and terminology that hospital press conferences in the US are famous for.

His sudden national profile has once again focused attention on the growing Indian role in American medicine. It is estimated that there are over 40,000 physicians in the US who are of Indian origin. Testimony to their number and influence is the American Association of Physicians of Indian Origin, which is one of the more powerful lobbying organisations in America.

Ivatury, who moved to New York and subsequently to Virginia, is also professor at the Virginia Commonwealth Medical College in Richmond, the state capital, as well director for trauma and emergency surgery there.

An author of numerous research papers on trauma care, Ivatury most recently made a mark at an international conference on the subject in Sydney.

An Indian face to the continuing sniper mystery here has also been given in TV appearances by relatives of Premkumar Walekar, an Indian taxi driver who was shot dead on October 2.

The very first victim of the sniper was also an Indian, Rupinder Oberoi (22), who survived, is under medical care. The sniper’s other victims have included both men and women, whites, blacks, Hispanics and one 13-year-old school student.

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