"Saving the world" is a common adage used to describe do-gooders. But every once in a while, it applies without exaggeration. Dr. Kyle Knuppel '97 is a physician practicing international medicine, who is also co-founder of a nonprofit school for special needs children and hospital for the underserved in the Indian state of Telangana. He also serves as the director of strategic development and international affairs for Bannu and has been traveling back and forth in service of its mission amidst an international pandemic.
So, how did he end up here? That question, along with many others, inspired The Hun School’s Masala Club to invite Dr. Knuppel to share his story with club members, faculty, parents, and alumni. They quickly learned that his journey did not follow a straight line. “I was a musician for a decade,” Dr. Knuppel said. Passionate about music, he “always identified as a musician and it helped me get through the teen years.”
Music would not be his ultimate calling, though. The terrorist attacks of 9/11 inspired him to go in a different direction—to New York, where he would train as an EMT. It changed the trajectory of his life and countless others. “That class was the best thing I did. I still do the same things that I learned there.”
Eventually, Dr. Knuppel decided to further pursue medicine as a doctor because “I wanted to be the last person that a patient would see.” Inspired by Tracy Kidder’s Mountains Beyond Mountains, which chronicled the work of Paul Farmer, he knew he wanted to work internationally. “Those in underserved areas aren’t given any chance to advance.”
It was during his post-baccalaureate pre-med program where the stars aligned, and he met Dr. Charanjit Reddy. From that point on, the two worked to build a hospital in India. “There I was, without a medical degree, trying to raise money,” laughed the self-effacing Dr. Knuppel. It took five or six years to get its footing while he completed residencies in central America and Africa.
Now, Dr. Knuppel splits his time between the United States and India, where he serves alongside Dr. Reddy. While in the U.S., Dr. Knuppel works days, with Dr. Reddy working nights. “That way we overlap and can work together on the hospital and school.”
While speaking with students, he was quick to point out that he offers resources and assistance, not directives. “In reality, they (the people of Telangana) have a better sense of what they need … “” While the hospital is run by people who live in the rural area, he visits to assist largely with administration. The goal is that the services and support will continue whether he and Dr. Reddy are in residence or not. “We want to work ourselves out of a job,” he explained.
Ever-humble, he takes very little credit for his efforts. “I was really the second person to get up and dance. It’s been wonderful to be a part of it.”
During the webinar, he encouraged Hun students to seize their opportunities, trust the process, and pivot. “Recognize that you can change if there is something you want to do; you can do it. It is so rare to be able to go to music school, be a musician, and then go be a doctor.”
When Nethra Velanki '24 asked Dr. Knuppel how being a musician informs his medical career, he noted that he uses the lessons he learned through music daily. “Music is no different from medicine. If you think about the organization and how you approach things, you have to have some creativity, but you have to have some ground rules too.”
He also shared advice that is universal. “The most important thing is to listen to people’s stories. Be fascinated by their narrative, make it so they feel comfortable sharing their lives with you. We are all the same. Go wanting to learn and offer what you have freely…that’s the way the world should be.”
Note: Dr. Knuppel’s hospital in India is facing a devastating lack of oxygen in their battle against Covid-19. If you are interested in learning more, please click here.