Health

Wednesday, Dec 05 2012 06:07 PM

Remarkable gift opens holiday season at Bakersfield hospital

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    By Alex Horvath / The Californian

    Brothers Kewel (Kable) Munger and Baldev (David) Munger attend the public announcement of the Munger family's $2 million gift to Bakersfield Memorial Hospital.

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    By Alex Horvath / The Californian

    Sue Benham, chief development officer of Bakersfield Memorial Hospitals, brothers Baldev (David) Munger and Kewel (Kable) Munger, Jon Van Boening, president/CEO of Bakersfield Memorial Hospital, pose for photographs during the public announcement of the Munger family's $2 million gift to Bakersfield Memorial Hospital.

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BY STEVEN MAYER Californian staff writer smayer@bakersfield.com

It's something of a Hindu Christmas story -- with the power to warm hearts and help save the lives of cardiac and stroke patients well into the foreseeable future.

With scores of guests and dignitaries looking on, Bakersfield Memorial Hospital CEO and President Jon Van Boening announced Wednesday that a Kern County farming family has donated $2 million to fund an important expansion of the hospital's heart and stroke center.

"We're going to be able to do remarkable things in our hospital" as a result of the gift from the Munger family, Van Boening told the crowd gathered under a tent structure at the hospital.

As The Californian reported several hours before the announcement was made, Lajpat Rai Munger, 95, who immigrated with his family to California from his native India in 1966, has a long history of funding the construction and support of schools and hospitals in India and the United States.

Munger's sons, David and Kable Munger, who attended Wednesday's event, said the family had been searching in recent years for a local organization that could benefit from a sizable gift -- a donation that would also benefit the community. And Memorial seemed like a good choice.

"My dad has had heart problems and we're very grateful for the care he has received here at Memorial," said David Munger.

The expanded and redesigned facility will be named Sarvanand Heart and Stroke Center, in honor of the late-Swami Sarvanand Gir, a spiritual leader or guru the Munger family has looked to for guidance for more than 80 years.

One of his basic tenets? Generosity.

The family has long operated on the belief that material possessions are not the measure of success, and that the good -- and the bad -- we do in this world ultimately returns to us in perfect karmic balance.

"We feel that opportunities came to us because of the principles dad lived by," David said.

"We were taught that you work at donating as hard as you work for yourself," David said. "Donation is as powerful as prayer."

Dr. Tommy Lee, the elder Munger's cardiologist at Memorial, told the gathering he's long been inspired by the Munger family and the "patience, the attention and the genuine affection they have repeatedly demonstrated to each other."

The expansion of the cardiovascular department at Memorial, Lee said, will allow doctors to deliver cutting-edge life-saving procedures to patients "without sending them to Los Angeles or other distant cities."

Construction is scheduled to begin in 2014 on what Lee said will be the only hybrid operating room in Bakersfield. It will place a catheterization lab -- where doctors open clotted blood vessels in the heart with tiny balloons -- adjacent to a sterile operating room, allowing for immediate movement from catheterization to surgery in cases of emergency.

And in a department designed especially for children, "the only bi-plane room in Bakersfield," Lee said, will allow "doctors to take pictures from two different angles simultaneously, thereby reducing the dye we need use in a procedure."

Despite the size and scope of the Mungers' gift to Memorial, the brothers remain adamant that the historic gift is not, in its truest sense, a gift at all.

"Over and over, my dad would tell us," Kable said, "'Never think you are giving something away. When you help someone else, it always comes back to you.'"

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