Montgomery Place resident inspires coffee hour for veterans, urges empathy and respect for men and women who serve

Montgomery Place resident Shantha Monippallil, M.D. encourages people to support veterans. She is hosting a coffee for all neighborhood veterans from 10:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Veterans Day, Saturday, Nov. 11, at Montgomery Place, 5550 S. Shore Drive. No reservations required. – Photo courtesy of Montgomery Place

Shantha Monippallil M.D. will be leading a discussion titled “Coffee, Conviviality and Courage: A salute to our neighborhood’s veterans” on Veteran’s Day, Saturday, Nov. 11, from 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. at Montgomery Place, 5550 S. Shore Drive. During the event, Monippallil, a Montgomery Place resident and a physician who has treated over a thousand veterans, will welcome all veterans living and working in the Hyde Park area and express her gratitude for their dedicated service.

A couple of years ago, Monippallil was waiting for a nurse to send in her next patient. “When the young man stepped in and saw me, he said, ‘You’re my first doctor. You gave me my baby shots.’ He was just 22 years old.”

As a family doctor in Mattoon, Ill., Monippallil had treated the man nearly two decades earlier. Now, he was a veteran who had experienced unspeakable things in Afghanistan. And she was working as a physician for the Veterans Administration.

“I was so happy to see him,” Monippallil said, “I told him, ‘God, we are so blessed you didn’t get killed. You didn’t lose any body parts.’ We hugged. He cried. I cried.”

In 2006, Monippallil retired from her private family practice at age 65. Within months, however, she became bored and decided to take on responsibilities as a physician at a community-based outpatient clinic, serving veterans near Mattoon. Over the next nine and a half years, she treated more than 1,600 vets, many struggling with emotional trauma like the young man she first saw as an infant. Her up-close-and-personal work with men and women profoundly affected by war, changed her life forever.

“While veterans deserve our respect, they also need our support and caring,” said Monippallil, who is concerned about cuts to veterans’ services.

Many veterans suffer post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), but few people realize flashbacks can be overwhelming, Monippallil said. “One day I was checking a man’s blood pressure and he just went blank. He was staring and not seeing me. Afterwards he was exhausted. He was remembering seeing people getting burned. Al-Qaeda took credit for the effort.”

Many veterans suffer closed head injuries, which often go undetected, she said. Brain injuries make it extremely difficult to focus and maintain concentration, she added. Many veterans also experience survivor’s guilt, paranoia, severe depression, nightmares, numerous medical issues, and recurring rashes from chemicals used in warfare. Some women veterans struggle because they were raped and are unable to form healthy intimate relationships.

“Family members expect veterans to behave as they did before deployment. Many don’t,” Monippallil said.

On the brighter side, medical care, counseling, support groups and therapy dogs have helped many veterans heal, said Monippallil, who employs a playful sense of humor. “I encourage veterans to write down their stories, like for a book or movie, and I tell them, ‘I will have Tom Cruise play you.’ Instead of suffering with things all bottled up, once they begin to write, they begin to heal.”

Describing herself as “an aggressive, focused, caring woman,” Monippallil grew up in Cochin, a town on the Southwest coast of India. Her father served in intelligence with the British Army in North India and shared stories about the hardships soldiers faced. “He made me understand some of the realities, so I would respect the sacrifices veterans make, in this country too,” Monippallil said.

Last April, she moved from her home in Charleston, Ill., near Mattoon, to Montgomery Place with her husband, Matthew Monippallil. The couple chose the life plan community because they had lived in Hyde Park in the early 1970s. At that time, Monippallil had already practiced medicine in India and was earning certifications to practice medicine in the United States. Matthew was enrolled in a Ph.D. program at the University of Chicago.

“Dr. Monippallil reminds us to appreciate and give thanks to our veterans. She wants us to realize it’s important support them in many ways,” said Deborah Hart, CEO of Montgomery Place. “And, we’re grateful to the Hyde Park Herald for helping us get out the word to veterans.”

At Monippallil’s suggestion, Montgomery Place, 5550 South Shore Drive, is inviting veterans living and working in the Hyde Park neighborhood to stop by and enjoy complimentary coffee and pastries from 10:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Veterans Day, Saturday, Nov. 11. Monippallil, fellow residents and Montgomery Place staff will be on hand to welcome those who attend. No reservations are required.

For more information, call 773-753-4100 or visit www.MontgomeryPlace.org.