He started the Division of Pediatric Pulmonology at what later would become Kentucky Children’s Hospital (KCH) and served as its division chief until June 2023. In his 40 years of service to Kentucky’s children, he has seen the field of pulmonology evolve and with it, the quality of life of his young patients. It’s an area in which he has some personal experience.
“Growing up with asthma and during my pediatric training I was motivated to help children with respiratory problems,” said Kanga.
After receiving his undergraduate degree from Adamjee Science College and his medical degree from Dow Medical College, both in Karachi, Pakistan, Kanga came to the U.S. and completed his residency at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York. After completing a fellowship at Pediatric Pulmonology at Tulane Medical Center in New Orleans, he came to Lexington.
Upon arrival, Kanga inherited approximately 50 patients with cystic fibrosis. He established the Cystic Fibrosis Care Center and recruited a pharmacist, nurse, social worker. Over the years, Kanga assembled a team of talented and dedicated individuals to care for adult and pediatric patients with cystic fibrosis, including Michael Anstead, MD, who served his residency under Kanga’s mentorship. The CF Center is accredited by the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, and has played a central role in the research of the disease and its treatments.
“Our pediatric pulmonary division has a strong research team and we have been involved in several research studies through the years which have helped bring new treatments to children with CF,” said Kanga. “Two drugs that are now commonly used in CF – ciprofloxacin and chronic azithromycin – research for these medications was initiated here.”
Throughout his 40-year career, Kanga has seen firsthand how the research and development of new treatments directly impact those with CF. Since 1938, when CF was first documented, patients were resigned to a short life of experimental, ineffective treatments. But in 1989, scientists discovered the gene that causes cystic fibrosis — CFTR, the first disease-causing gene to be identified. The discovery of the gene is considered to be one of the most significant breakthroughs in human genetics in 50 years.
“When I started my fellowship in 1980, the median survival for CF was 15 years, today it is 56 years,” said Kanga. “I truly believe that infants born with CF today, will have a normal life expectancy. It is an awesome thing to experience in one’s career.”
A disease that used to come with extended hospital stays and early deaths is now treated in an outpatient clinic with few hospital admissions. CF was once considered a childhood disease, but as the life expectancy of the patient population increases, Kanga, trained as a pediatrician, discovered a bit of a learning curve when seeing adult patients.
“One of my patients in her 50s said she started HRT and I asked what that was,” said Kanga. “She replied ‘Dr. K you have been a pediatrician too long – it stands for hormone replacement therapy.’ That’s when I realized adult CF care was the next step.”
Today, the CF Program at UK HealthCare has an independent adult care program, with Anstead as its director. Of the more than 300 CF patients followed at UK, more than half are now adults. The oldest patient is approaching 80 years old.
“Forty years of dedication and expertise have forged not just an exemplary physician, but also an esteemed colleague,” said Scottie B. Day, MD, physician-in-chief at KCH, who, along with KCH providers and staff, celebrated Kanga’s career at a reception in his honor. “With gratitude, we salute Dr. Kanga’s remarkable journey of compassion, expertise and innovation at our hospital.”
On Aug. 18, 2023, Kanga was honored at a celebration during a grand rounds presentation at KCH. He received an award from the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation for 40 years of outstanding service to the patients and families with cystic fibrosis, was elected to the Honorable Order of Kentucky Colonels by Gov. Andy Beshear and also received a proclamation from the Kentucky Senate in recognition of his services to the Commonwealth.
According to his colleagues, many of whom are former students, Kanga has always welcomed new practitioners, educating them on the care of patients but more importantly, instilling them with lessons of empathy for patients based on his interactions with them and their caregivers. During the presentation, he was lauded by Day, College of Medicine Dean Chipper Griffith, MD, and fellow pediatric pulmonologist Mark Wurth, MD, – all of whom were trained by Kanga.
“I’ve got to be the only person who has trained his dean, chair and chief,” he said.
The pride Kanga feels when he sees his patients celebrating milestones is what motivates him to continue the work. He said it “takes a village” to care for people with cystic fibrosis, and he considers his multidisciplinary team, along with fellow faculty Anstead and Robert Kuhn, PharmD, responsible for the center’s success. He credits his personal success to the support of his wife Zavera and children Fareesh and Hormazd. His four grand children have made him a compassionate and caring pediatrician.
“In a disease such as CF, we become a family over the years,” said Kanga. “Seeing patients do better each year and celebrating their graduations, marriages, jobs, family, etc. Several patients I took care of years ago are now grandparents and still stay in touch.”