One of In­dia’s first OB-GYN doc­tors

DR. NAJMA KHAN | 1931-2020

Chicago Sun-Times - - TOP NEWS - BY JADE YAN, STAFF RE­PORTER jyan@sun­ | @jadelu­ci­ayan

When Dr. Najma Khan was 9 years old, she pushed her fa­ther to send her to school.

She was born in Hyderabad, In­dia, in 1931, when op­por­tu­ni­ties for girls were lim­ited. Most women, like her mother, had lit­tle for­mal school­ing. But when a fe­male cousin her age started school, Dr. Khan per­suaded her fa­ther to let her at­tend, too.

She died June 15, of pan­cre­atic can­cer, in north sub­ur­ban Lin­col­nwood, where she lived with her hus­band, Mir No­man Khan.

“She was very de­ter­mined,” said one of Dr. Khan’s grand­daugh­ters, Iman Khan. “If there was some­thing that needed to get done, it would hap­pen.”

The thing that needed to get done, in this case, was Dr. Khan’s ed­u­ca­tion. She at­tended school and grad­u­ated early, at age 15.

At 19, in 1950, she started med­i­cal school at Hyderabad’s Os­ma­nia Univer­sity.

Med­i­cal school, said her sis­ter Badar Fa­rooq, was un­heard of for girls. But four years later, Dr. Khan grad­u­ated and be­came the first doc­tor in her fam­ily and one of the first peo­ple to re­ceive an OB-GYN cer­tifi­cate in the coun­try, ac­cord­ing to her son Say­eed Khan.

“She was very pro­gres­sive,” said Fa­rooq, of her sis­ter. Dr. Khan’s break with tra­di­tion opened doors for her three younger sis­ters: All went on to school and univer­sity.

Cre­at­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties for her sis­ters shows how she “strug­gled for other peo­ple,” said grand­daugh­ter Iman Khan.

This em­pa­thy also ran through Dr. Khan’s med­i­cal ca­reer. She ran a free health clinic out of her par­ents’ house in her 20s, turn­ing the liv­ing room into a re­cep­tion room.

In 1967, Dr. Khan and her fam­ily moved to Amer­ica, join­ing the wave of mi­gra­tion prompted by the 1965 Im­mi­gra­tion Act, de­signed to en­cour­age im­mi­gra­tion that wasn’t pre­dom­i­nantly Euro­pean. She spent three years liv­ing on Penn State’s cam­pus while her hus­band worked toward his doc­tor­ate in chem­istry.

In 1970, how­ever, Dr. Khan was of­fered res­i­dency in Chicago, at Colum­bus Hos­pi­tal. She moved with her fam­ily to North Park, which was close to work.

Life in Chicago was chal­leng­ing for new im­mi­grants, with its freez­ing weather so dif­fer­ent from In­dia. Dr. Khan also had to start her four-year OB-GYN res­i­dency all over again.

Res­i­den­cies can be in­tense, with high ex­pec­ta­tions from su­pe­ri­ors.

“Those are the worst years of your life, and she sucked it up and did it,” said Iman, who has just started her own OB-GYN res­i­dency.

Dr. Khan was also tak­ing care of the cou­ple’s young chil­dren, and ex­pe­ri­enced, as did her friend Dr. Aye­sha Sul­tana, “the babysit­ting prob­lem” — that is, what to do with your chil­dren when you’re work­ing.

But the real chal­lenge for Dr. Khan was com­plet­ing her res­i­dency with breast can­cer, hav­ing been di­ag­nosed in 1972. She told Iman sto­ries of feel­ing so sick at work, she was “cling­ing to the walls.”

De­spite a suc­cess­ful mas­tec­tomy and ra­di­a­tion ther­apy, she was ex­pected to live no more than five years.

“I asked, ‘When did you know that you were go­ing to live?’ ” her son Say­eed re­called. “She said, ‘Never.’ ”

But her “make the most of things” at­ti­tude, ac­cord­ing to her grand­daugh­ter, saw Dr. Khan live nearly 10 times longer than her prog­no­sis.

When she be­came an at­tend­ing OB-GYN, she went out of her way for pa­tients. If a birth took a long time, she would wait at the hos­pi­tal said Dr. Sul­tana, who at­tended Dr. Khan’s med­i­cal col­lege. “Usu­ally doc­tors go home, but she would wait.”

The num­ber of ba­bies Dr. Khan de­liv­ered was “eas­ily in the thou­sands,” ac­cord­ing to Say­eed. She also de­liv­ered many ba­bies within the lo­cal South Asian Mus­lim com­mu­nity and her fam­ily — at her fu­neral, a dis­tant rel­a­tive told Say­eed that she and her two broth­ers had all been de­liv­ered by Dr. Khan.

Dr. Khan’s open-mind­ed­ness also made her a fam­ily me­di­a­tor.

“She was al­ways on the phone with some­body,” said Iman, adding that Dr. Khan would try to fig­ure out the best way to han­dle a sit­u­a­tion, not just her way.

Dr. Khan, a ded­i­cated mem­ber of the Mus­lim Com­mu­nity Cen­ter of Chicago, fre­quently gave her friends and rel­a­tives med­i­cal ad­vice, of­ten at­tend­ing to her fam­ily’s shots and med­i­ca­tions.

Days be­fore she passed away, she was still ask­ing Say­eed whether her hus­band had re­ceived his in­sulin shot — she had been the one to ad­min­is­ter them in the past.

In ad­di­tion to her son Say­eed Khan and hus­band Mir No­man Khan, Dr. Khan’s sur­vivors in­clude: daugh­ter Humera Khan; sis­ters Asma Qadri, Shams Muk­tar and Badar Fa­rooq; and three grand­chil­dren. Her el­der son, Hasan Khan, a physi­cian, died last year.

Ser­vices have been held.


Dr. Najma Khan (se­cond from left) with her fam­ily at the wed­ding of el­der son Hasan Khan (cen­ter). With them are (from left) son Say­eed Khan, daugh­ter Humera Khan and hus­band Mir No­man Khan.

Dr. Najma Khan (cen­ter) with sis­ters Shams Muk­tar (left) and Badar Fa­rooq around 1956.

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