Dr. Bob Paeglow, 52
Albany, New York
Bob Paeglow was busy raising a family and working as an X-ray technician in Albany when, one evening in 1986, he saw a news story about a single mom who couldn’t afford to take her kids to the doctor. He burst into tears. “I saw my life before me,” recalls Paeglow, a religious man, “and the world was no better off because I had lived in it.”
So Paeglow changed his life. Quitting his job and putting himself through medical school, he became a family doctor and, in 2000, opened a clinic in one of his city’s poorest neighborhoods. Today that center, Koinonia Health Care Services—koinonia derives from the Greek word for “fellowship”—sees about 5,000 patients a year, many of whom have no insurance or money to pay for the care Paeglow and his three-person staff provide. “I do what I’m called to do,” Paeglow says. “And I love people.”
Nowhere is that love more apparent than in Paeglow’s clinic on the second floor of a redbrick building, where children’s art and Bible verses cover painted yellow walls. On an October afternoon, the genial Paeglow—a Santa look-alike—examines a 38-year-old single mother of four clutching a dirty coat around her shoulders; she is six weeks pregnant and depressed. “I can’t even buy my kids coats,” she sobs. Paeglow hands her tissues, nodding sympathetically. “We’re going to get you fixed up first,” he begins. “We’re going to get you some counseling and antidepressants, and then we’ll see about winter coats.” Within an hour clinic volunteers have rounded up coats and a family that will “adopt” the woman and her sons by helping them down the road.
Quick to meet his patients’ needs, Paeglow has sacrificed much himself. During his training at Albany Medical College, the father of four racked up $250,000 in debt, eventually filing for bankruptcy. To help make ends meet, his wife, Liliane, then a hospital nurse, worked extra shifts, even Christmas. (She now works part-time with Paeglow.) “One year, I told them to call when they were opening presents,” she recalls. “I cried at the nurses’ station.” Paeglow, working weekends as a campus security guard, also missed out: “I couldn’t go to football games, didn’t see [daughter] Becky leave for the prom.” Daughter Amanda, 23, says at times she felt resentful. “We say, ‘We went to medical school,’ not ‘he.'”
Drawing only a small salary from his teaching work at Albany Medical College—Paeglow and Liliane left their suburban house behind and now live rent-free in a nearby church rectory—he will reach into his own pocket when patients come up short. When Wynette Guzman, 28, tells Paeglow she has no funds to pay for an antifungal cream for her 3-year-old daughter Wyiana, Paeglow writes a check to the pharmacy. “I feel that he really cares about me and my daughter,” Guzman says. All of which suggests the world is a lot better off with Paeglow in it. “People say, ‘I’m inspired by what you do,'” he says. “That feels good.”