By David Whiting | [email protected] | Orange County Register
PUBLISHED: November 24, 2017 at 8:00 am | UPDATED: November 28, 2017 at 10:57 am
When 19-year-old Imran Faruqi walked into an old fire station with beat-up equipment in Washington, D.C.’s tough southeast side, he found his soul.
A biomedical engineering student at George Washington University and fresh-faced EMT, Faruqi realized in the hustle, the din, the urgency of the world of first-responders that he would never be the engineer his globe-trotting father, grandfather and great-grandfather were.
Like his fathers before him, he would explore the world. But Faruqi’s heart was made of stuff more primal, more adrenaline-fueled, more about keeping someone alive than solving an engineering problem.
For the first time in his life, the college sophomore understood that deep in his heart he needed to help when and where help was needed most.
Only 30 years old and an emergency room physician at Kaiser Permanente Riverside Medical Center, the Laguna Niguel resident already knows what it’s like to be the lone physician at an emergency shelter in the middle of a Louisiana flood with 3,000 evacuees needing help.
The doctor also understands what it means to volunteer for an Army commission.
Right now, the active reserve Army captain trains once a month. “It really is a special thing,” he offers, “to take care of soldiers and treat them.”
Within the next year, Faruqi will have served — or will be serving — in a place very far from Southern California and very different.
I’ll only say he can’t say where.
Faruqi isn’t much for pomp. Instead, his spirit gravitates toward the natural world.
Walk through his sparsely furnished bachelor rental in Laguna Niguel and photographs taken with a cellphone dot the walls.
There are caves of turquoise in Thailand, lush green forests in Malaysia, sandy beaches in Jamaica.
From his patio with a view of the Pacific Ocean, he smiles at the memories. But he truly lights up when he talks about hanging out on the coast of Australia and watching pods of humpback whales playing in the sea.
Australia, you see, is special. This man of the world started medical school in Brisbane. But let’s back up.
Faruqi was born in Portland, Ore., went to an American elementary school in Saudi Arabia where his father worked, graduated high school in Virginia and earned his bachelor’s degree at George Washington University.
He started as an engineering student. But he was curious about the path his big sister had taken to become a doctor in San Francisco.
“Anything she did,” Faruqi confesses, “I wanted to do. She was my mentor.”
While many of his college peers partied on weekends, Faruqi studied to become a licensed EMT.
“On my first day, I walked into a firehouse that was falling apart, trucks that were banged up and I loved it,” Faruqi recalls of that day a decade ago. He beams, “It was great.”
Every day and every night that he worked as an EMT, Faruqi helped someone. Almost as important, he loved being part of a team of men and women who risked everything to help others.
“It’s not about being compensated or about being thanked,” Faruqi says. “It’s about making a difference. That was the coolest thing in the world for me.
“I draw a lot of strength from the people I work with.”
Soon, Faruqi started training as a firefighter. Three times a week, the college kid schlepped 60 pounds of gear from his room to the metro and then to the fire station.
In classes the next morning — even after two showers — he smelled smoke on his skin and smiled. “I figured I was the only person there who had been in a room with 800-degree temperatures the night before.”
The firehouse was one of the busiest in an area known by first responders to be among the busiest in the nation. Hearing gunshots while laying in his bunk was commonplace.
“Some of the poorest people in our country,” the doctor notes, “have a view of the Capitol.”
One night, a car hit a utility pole. Faruqi’s team was among the first to arrive. The driver was seriously injured. Downed power lines sparked. A house burned.
Immediately, teams focused on specific tasks. Faruqi’s job was to help put out the fire.
“You have to be able to detach your emotions to be an effective provider,” the physician explains. “But you never detach from caring.”
Faruqi sips a mug of tea and brightens. “People do this every single day,” he marvels, “exceptional people across the country.”
Working with the team at the firehouse, the doctor allows he learned communication, leadership, organization and the significance of camaraderie.
He changed his major to pre-med and started applying to medical school. He found what he was looking for in a public-private partnership between the University of Queensland in Australia and Ochsner Medical Health system in Louisiana.
It meant joining a group of American and Australian students in Brisbane for two years, and then two more years with Ochsner in New Orleans.
Ochsner’s incentive? As one of the largest health care providers in Louisiana, the company hoped to increase the number of local professionals.
“In Louisiana,” Faruqi explains, “all roads lead back to Katrina.”
Seeing the best
After the devastating hurricane that hit in August 2005, many people left Louisiana and never returned. That included nurses, physician assistants, doctors.
After graduating medical school, Faruqi worked for three years as a resident in Baton Rouge. He loved the people, the culture, the challenges. “I saw a lot and did a lot.”
The toughest time came in August 2016 when Faruqi was driving to the airport. All flights were canceled. Runways were underwater.
By the next morning, thousands of businesses and homes were submerged. Blackhawk Army helicopters plucked people off rooftops.
Faruqi knew all staff was on duty at area hospitals. But he thought emergency centers might need help. He managed to get to a movie studio that had been converted into an evacuation center.
He spotted a doctor. “Hey,” he asked, “what can I do to help?”
“Thank God you’re here,” said the family physician, pointing to three empty hospital tables and a pile of medication. Then the physician rushed off.
“It was 11 o’clock at night with just me, a nurse and two student physician assistants,” Faruqi recalls. With thousands of evacuees in a daze, he knew that by morning there would be bedlam if something wasn’t done.
For 20 straight hours, Faruqi and his team organized, hustled for supplies and treated patients for everything from chronic conditions to anaphylactic shock.
Then, Faruqi slept four hours and worked another 20 hours.
Wearing a faded blue University of Queensland T‑shirt, Faruqi dismisses his role with a shrug. One nurse, he reports, worked with nothing left but the clothes on his back.
“Every day, in the worst of times,” Faruqi emphasizes, “I see the best in people.
“We all do our part.”
Photo Caption: Dr. Imran Faruqi poses for a photograph in Riverside on Monday, November 20, 2017. (Photo by Drew A. Kelley, Contributing Photographer)