Meet the Doctor: Kunal Kumar, MD
Kunal Kumar, MD, is a neurologist specializing in sleep medicine. He is Medical Director of the Sleep Disorders Center at Einstein Medical Center Philadelphia, located on the third floor of the Moss Rehab Building on Tabor Road. He sees patients in the clinic at the Klein Building, 5401 Old York Road, Suite 300. Dr. Kumar is board certified in neurology and sleep medicine.
We spoke recently with Dr. Kumar about his career, his interests, and sleep medicine at Einstein.
Q: When did you decide to become a doctor?
A: When I was really young. I grew up watching my dad, who was a general practitioner in India, and I saw how he was able to help people. So, I was attracted to medicine very early. I knew I wanted to be a doctor.
Q: Tell us about your medical education.
A: I did my basic medical education at Grant Medical College in Mumbai. Then I moved to the United States for advanced training. I did my internal medicine residency at Metropolitan Hospital in New York City, and then my neurology training at University Hospital, Case Western Reserve University, in Cleveland. I also have one year of neuro-critical care training from United Health Services Wilson Medical Center, Johnson City, N.Y. I did my sleep medicine fellowship at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill.
Q: How did you choose your specialty?
A: I developed my interest in neurology in medical school. When I was a student, I used to see neurology patients, and what was fascinating was that you can actually diagnose a patient based on a clinical exam without much reliance on diagnostic testing.
Q: Can you explain?
A: If a stroke patient comes in with language problems or trouble speaking, and right-sided weakness, you can say clinically, based on the exam, that most likely the patient suffered a stroke that affected the left side of the brain. You don’t need testing to say this person is having or had a stroke.
Also, I love neurology because of its complexity and because it’s a very evolving field. For example, we used to have only few drugs to treat multiple sclerosis, and now we have so many and these newer drugs are very effective. I’m fascinated by the brain.
Q: How did you then move into sleep medicine?
A: In training, as I learned more about neurology, I learned more about sleep as well. The thing I’ve found very attractive about sleep medicine is how rewarding it is when you treat your patient. After treatment, they tell you things like, “Doctor, you don’t know how well I slept.”
We spend one-third of our life in sleep, and if that is disrupted it affects all aspects of life. Treating the sleep condition means people are happier and have a better quality of life.
Q: When people hear “sleep medicine,” they often picture a sleep study. What does that look like?
A: There are two types of sleep studies: an in-lab study and a home sleep test. In-lab study is the gold-standard test. You spend the night in the lab, where you are monitored by a professional sleep technician throughout the night while they collect data to tell us whether you are awake or asleep, including different stages of sleep. They also record and monitor other parameters, like oxygen saturation, heart rate and rhythm, and body movements. Home sleep testing has limited data. It will give you the basic information.
Q: Is sleep apnea one of the main problems you treat?
A: Sleep apnea is very common. It occurs when the airway repeatedly becomes obstructed during sleep. This disrupts the sleep, and your body undergoes a lot of stress. You may feel very tired, fatigued and sleepy the next day. This affects your quality of life and puts you at increased risk for accidents.
Untreated sleep apnea has been linked to many medical conditions, such as hypertension, or high blood pressure, irregular heart rate, like atrial fibrillation, higher risk for stroke, memory problems, worsening diabetes, and insulin resistance. When we treat people for sleep apnea, it improves their daytime symptoms and quality of life. It also reduces their risk of accidents and improves other associated medical conditions.
Q: How is sleep apnea treated?
A: Most patients are treated with C-PAP, which stands for continuous positive airway pressure. It’s a machine, connected to a mask over your face, that pushes air with pressure and keeps the airway open.
There are other options, like oral appliances, for mild to moderate sleep apnea patients or for someone who cannot tolerate C-PAP. A dentist provides an oral appliance that pulls the jaw forward to widen the airway when you sleep. You put the appliance in before going to bed and take it out when you wake up.
Now there is a newer upper airway stimulation device, called Inspire. It is placed under the skin in the chest area during an outpatient procedure. It gets turned on at night to stimulate airway muscles, which allows widening of the airway to prevent sleep apnea.
Q: Why should people choose Einstein for the care of sleep disorders?
A: We have a dedicated team of doctors from pulmonary and neurology backgrounds taking care of sleep patients. We take care of various sleep pathologies like sleep apnea, insomnia, restless legs syndrome, parasomnia, REM behavior disorder and other sleep conditions. Our sleep lab has committed daytime and nighttime staffers who work hard to provide excellent patient-centered care.
Q: Who was your greatest influence?
A: My mom and dad. I talked earlier about my dad. I grew up watching him always putting others first. He was such a kind and compassionate person. He was able to help so many people and influence so many lives. I am here because of my parents’ vision, hard work, and their dedication towards education.
Q: Who is the person you would most like to meet?
A: Barack Obama. He is such a good orator and motivator. He has the capability to connect exceptionally well with people. I am also impressed by his ability to remain humble despite his achievements. He is such a kindhearted person, and I would be lucky to meet him one day.
Q: Do you have a favorite book ?
A: Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell. He talks about success and how it is seen from the outside and how it is different when you examine all the things that play a role, like in which era you were born. He talks about the 10,000-hours rule for mastering something, which makes anything a possibility depending upon the time and effort you put in.
Another book I read recently was The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle. He talks about being in the moment and how you should live your life in the present. It’s very refreshing.
Q: Do you have a favorite vacation spot?
A: I’m going to say Europe. I have been to Germany, France, and Italy. I would like to explore Switzerland and the rest of Europe. It is so rich in history and culture.
Q; What is something that people might not know about you?
A: I went skydiving back when I was in Cleveland. For me, the best part was how it is so scary to jump out of the plane, but instantly after the jump you forget about all your fear. It’s such a powerful and unique experience. I totally loved it and it taught me about overcoming your fears. It’s scary, but it’s rewarding.
Find out more about sleep medicine at Einstein.