When a disaster happens somewhere in the world, Prerna Mona Khanna (a.k.a. Dr. Mona) bolts out of her Old Town condo like a superhero and plunges into the middle of the action. “It’s nothing for me to jump on a plane and fly to Nepal,” she says, referring to the medical care she provided after the massive earthquake there this spring.
Khanna, 50, a triple-board-certified physician and Emmy-winning health reporter, formerly with Fox 32, has delivered a baby in Liberia during the Ebola outbreak, given lifesaving respiratory treatment to a girl having an asthma attack after the earthquake in Haiti in 2010, and performed an intervention on a patient suffering an epileptic seizure in the Amazon jungle. Altogether, she has volunteered to provide emergency aid in more than a dozen countries after five hurricanes, four earthquakes, two tsunamis, a plane crash, a typhoon, a flood, and the 9/11 terrorist attacks. “For Katrina, we offloaded patients onto the tarmac from C-130s and Chinooks [helicopters],” says Khanna, whose trips are all self-funded. “I didn’t get that class in medical school.”
For her day-to-day job, Khanna is a freelance medical consultant and a primary care physician. Recently, United Airlines hired her to treat employees at its O’Hare clinic, and she screened passengers returning from West Africa at the CDC’s quarantine station in the airport. “I can’t be on staff,” she says, “because I couldn’t call the CEO and say, ‘There’s an earthquake in Haiti. I have to go.’ They’d say, ‘Well, who’s going to take care of your patients?’ ”
Khanna’s 13-page résumé lists a truckload of philanthropic honors. But perhaps the coolest is her 2015 Humanitarian Excellence Award from Illinois secretary of state Jesse White, which earned her a personalized license plate that reads “DR MONA.” “I guess Jesse figured if I am going to fly around trying to save the world, he would make sure I could drive around Illinois in style,” she says.