By Sarina Trangle
George Subraj left Guyana decades ago, but he remains at the forefront of medical advancements in the Caribbean nation through his philanthropic work.
After immigrating to New York in 1971, Subraj worked at various jobs in the garment industry and electronics sales while taking business classes at night.
He struggled to find clean, safe and affordable housing. So as he saved money, he slowly immersed himself in the real estate industry, acquiring buildings and striving to ensure they met the standards he sought before purchasing a home in Hollis, and later Garden City, L.I.
Once Subraj and his two brothers had built up Zara Realty Holding into a portfolio of more than 30 buildings clustered in Queens, Long Island and Orlando, Fla., Subraj began returning to Guyana to sponsor the country’s first kidney transplant, pioneer pediatric heart surgery and begin preparing for cornea transplants.
“I always believed in good health and I was always focused on being good and doing good,” said Subraj, 69. “I looked for those in need.”
In 2008, Subraj helped bring a team of doctors from Walter Reed Army Medical Hospital in Washington, D.C. to Guyana to perform the first kidney transplant.
He said because people in Guyana tend to eat healthier and obesity is a rare occurrence, there was less demand for the procedure. However, Subraj said there were still some in need due to kidney diseases.
He has since funded several transplants, focusing on younger patients who are “productive, working and have a future.”
In 2010, Subraj collaborated with staff from North Shore-Long Island Jewish Medical Center to perform heart surgery on eight children in Guyana. Although doctors in Guyana had been operating on adults, Subraj said they did not have the technology or training to assist youth.
“If we weren’t there, they all would have died,” he said.
More recently, Subraj has taken an ophthalmologist to examine 10 patients. He hopes to bring the doctor back soon to perform cornea transplants on the group.
The president of Zara said he also intends to begin working with the government to establish an eye bank in Guyana.
His philanthropic work has not been limited to medicine. Subraj has donated to several local organizations, including the committee that hosts an annual Phagwah parade to welcome spring and the America Sevashram Sangha, a religious non-profit that offers meditation and yoga as well as music, computer, GED and SAT prep classes.
He has also built a computer lab for a secondary school in Guyana and sent a bus to help transport students in rural areas to class. A second is on its way.
“We focus in the impoverished, stricken regions, where children live 20, 30, 40 miles away,” he said. “They can’t walk to class.”
The terrain is familiar to Subraj, who grew up working on his families’ rice and cattle farm and left for America with a single bag and $850 he had borrowed.
Reach reporter Sarina Trangle at 718-260-4546 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.