SIU Medicine's Donor of the Year, Shipra Somani
Much of Shipra Somani’s life has been guided by the personal adage she quotes often:
“If someone has good health and a good mind, they have a moral obligation to give back to people who are less fortunate.”
Mrs. Somani has embodied these words by dedicating her work to being an agent of change, striving for advancements in health care while aiding and advocating for those in vulnerable situations. She accomplished this not only through her exceptional gifts as a social worker, but also through her generosity as a donor.
A native of India, Mrs. Somani began her education in social work at the Institute of Social Welfare and Business Management in Kolkata, India. In 1964, she earned a fellowship to pursue her master’s in social work from the University of Pittsburgh and used the money she made while working in a child guidance center in Kolkata to purchase a plane ticket to move to the U.S. It was during her studies at the University that she met her husband, Dr. Satu Somani. Following graduation, she dedicated her efforts to an anti-poverty program in Pittsburgh's Hill District before eventually relocating to Springfield with her husband.
In 1974, she started a position as a renal social worker for the Memorial Medical Center’s dialysis unit. There, she dedicated herself to aiding dialysis patients and kidney transplant patients in managing their illnesses, offering invaluable emotional support, financial guidance, transportation arrangements, treatment coordination and dietary and nutritional counseling.
Mrs. Somani’s work at Memorial ignited a passion within her to advocate for dialysis patients in and around her community. She played a crucial role in championing the inclusion of common medications in the Circuit Breaker Program for senior citizens and those with disabilities. In addition, she aided in coordinating fundraising auctions as the founder of the Seven County Kidney Fund, a nonprofit organization that presently provides aid to patients in 46 counties. The Illinois Chapter of the National Association of Social Workers recognized her efforts with a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2015.
“Her lifelong goal is to help those who are in dire need so that they can pursue their dream of having a better chance of survival in life,” Chandana Nandi, president of the Asian Indian Women’s Organization and longtime friend of Mrs. Somani, said. “She always maintained high ethical standards both in her personal and professional life and is not afraid to speak the truth.”
In 1998, Gambro Healthcare bought the dialysis unit from Memorial Medical Center, where she continued her work as a renal social worker until her retirement in 2005.
While her career as a social worker led her to Memorial, it was her husband, Dr. Satu Somani, who connected her to SIU School of Medicine.
Dr. Somani began his career at SIU School of Medicine where he played a pivotal role as one of the first three faculty members in the pharmacology department. As the program grew, he helped lead the charge on research and understanding and preventing drug interactions. His unwavering passion for his field was matched by his enthusiasm for teaching.
After Dr. Somani’s death in 2002, his family established a fund in his honor to provide an annual monetary award to an outstanding student of medical pharmacology. Mrs. Somani was essential in establishing the Satu Somani Excellence in Pharmacology Award Endowment Fund and continues to financially support the fund.
With nearly 35 years of giving to SIU School of Medicine, Mrs. Somani has spent her years with the school fostering meaningful connections and growing her impact as a friend, donor, volunteer and frequent visitor. She remains an active member of the school and has been a reliable partner in supporting a wide array of departments and events. For more than eight years, she volunteered her time at the front desk at Simmons Cancer Institute, warmly greeting patients and their caregivers as they came in for appointments.
“My mother believes the best investment in life is in education because it never gets lost,” notes Indira Somani. “But she also believes that donations should come from within. As she says, ‘we cannot teach the importance of making a donation, one has to feel it and do it.’”
Mrs. Somani has received many awards for the exceptional care and support she gave as a social worker. She has also spent countless hours volunteering her time at the Asian Indian Women's Organization of Springfield, the Illinois Innocence Project, as a former board member at Hindu Temple of Greater Springfield, and a member of the Dietitian Nutritionist Practice Board of the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation.
Mrs. Somani’s achievements in health care and beyond have made an indelible impact on her community. Through her tireless efforts, fervor and commitment to positive change, she has become an example of inspiration for those striving to make a difference and has dedicated her life to being a champion for the most vulnerable in our society.