By Sarah Bello, Marketing & Communications Coordinator
After 25 years working with CMH, Dr. Hugh Sabahi, board-certified diagnostic radiologist, retires this week. Known as a generous and kind physician who always made time for his team and patients, his friendly face will be missed throughout the hospital.
Many current and former colleagues recalled wonderful memories of department Christmas parties thrown at Sabahi’s home. His participation in office antics, easygoing, approachable personality, and dedication to person-centered care made him a special provider, they say.
Larry Tripp, Imaging support caregiver, worked with Sabahi for 15 years. Many other staff members worked with him even longer — impressive loyalty to a busy, yet close, department.
“Dr. Sabahi had no problems with us knocking on his door or taking a phone call from someone,” Tripp says. “If a patient needed to come in, he would say ‘We’ll do it today,’ without looking at the schedule. We would work them in one way or another, because it was important to him to get the patient taken care of.”
The path to radiology in Astoria
Sabahi was born in Iran, with his family immigrating to the U.S. when he was about three years old. After spending time in Lawrence, Kan., they moved to the Pacific Northwest, where he grew up in Eugene, Ore., and Vancouver, Wash.
Since the sixth grade, he aspired to be an astronaut. As a young adult, he saw the immense competition for the handful of jobs and heard NASA was looking for physician-astronauts. He thought he’d have a better chance at applying with a medical degree and decided to go that direction with his career.
“As we grow older, goals change. The deeper I got into medical school, I realized I wanted to focus most of my energy on medicine,” Sabahi says. “I initially thought I’d want to be a plastic surgeon, but then I started learning about radiology and really liked the technology. It was at the forefront of medicine, with the most rapid developments made there. The more I learned about it, the more I liked it.”
Sabahi attended college at Portland State University, later earning his medical degree from Oregon Health & Science University. He completed a surgery internship at Northeastern Ohio College of Medicine and a diagnostic imaging residency at Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, Okla.
Sabahi worked part-time as an emergency physician for four years during his residency and began his first practice in St. Joseph, Mo., in 1988, primarily focusing on interventional radiology. Tripp says a coworker from there mentioned Sabahi’s commitment to his patients.
“They’d take film over to his house, and he would hold it up to the sun to look at it,” Tripp says. “He’d have his tape recorder with him and do his read. He was always willing to do whatever he could.”
After spending eight years in the Midwest paying off medical school debts, Sabahi missed the mountains and ocean. Traffic was abysmal in Portland even then, he says, so when he saw there was an opening in Astoria, he accepted a pay cut and pursued what he saw as a better quality, small-town lifestyle.
In 1996, he joined Dr. George Young at Columbia Pacific Imaging, which already worked with CMH as its contracted radiology partner. When Young retired in 2007, he formed a new practice, Pacific Coast Imaging, with Dr. Bill Armington. Armington retired in 2018, Dr. Ali Batouli taking his place and Sabahi remaining constant.
Working and growing with CMH
In their work with CMH, Sabahi, Armington and their unique practice were champions for bringing new technology to the Imaging Department. In 2008, CMH had only basic equipment for radiology in a small hospital: computed tomography (CT), fluoroscopy, plain radiography, film mammography, nuclear medicine and ultrasound.
But as the needs of the community grew, so did the department’s capabilities, with Sabahi’s help. By 2011, CMH had a full-service Imaging Department, adding digital radiography and mammography, multi-slice CT scanners, MRI, bone densitometry, 3D and 4D ultrasound and more. Jarrod Karnofski, CMH vice president of ancillary and support services, says Sabahi has been hardworking and reliable, helping the hospital with decisions related to new equipment, software, policies and procedures.
“Dr. Sabahi has always been outspoken in bringing new technology to administration’s attention, saying, ‘I think our community could use this,’” he explains.
Sabahi was a proponent in getting 3D mammography machines at CMH in October 2018, as well as offering a low-dose CT lung cancer screening in recent years. There is still more work to do with those programs, Karnofski says, but being able to offer them here is key for early cancer detection and a great advancement of CMH’s services.
CMH CEO Erik Thorsen says over the years, Sabahi served on the Board of Trustees as CMH’s Professional Staff President. In addition, he filled virtually all of the other Professional Staff leadership roles and served all of its committees. He acted as CMH’s Radiation Safety Officer, the Imaging Department’s medical director, and was an instrumental member of the Tumor Board.
“There is no doubt that his time and expertise have helped our organization grow,” Thorsen says. “We are grateful for his many years of service to CMH and the North Coast.”
Peggy Church worked with Sabahi for more than two decades before her retirement last year.
“I can’t say enough about how much he’s done for the department, the people there and the community,” she says. “He’s a really good person.”
While helping the department grow, he was generous in supporting staff, Church says. She was originally one of two support staff members, and as the staff expanded, it became like a second family. When Sabahi went on vacation and traveled, he’d bring her back something, she says.
“He was always very thoughtful,” she recalls.
Sabahi’s passion is traveling, and now is the right time for him to retire and do more of it, he says. Astoria will still be his home base — he likes the community and people, and it reminds him of exotic places. Having already explored the Amazon, climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania and been to the Svalbard Islands north of Norway that encompass one of the most northernmost land masses on earth, he is ready for adventure.
“I think we need to realize the value of life and take advantage of it before we lose our health,” Sabahi says. “I want to do as much as possible while I’m still healthy. I’m looking forward to it very much.”
Media Contact: Nancee Long, 503-338-4504
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