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Sikh News Operation Walk

Discussion in 'Breaking News' started by Aman Singh, Jun 3, 2009.

  1. Aman Singh

    Aman Singh
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    Jun 1, 2004
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    Julio Ore Perez laid awake under local anesthesia at a hospital in Lima, Peru, while a Sikh surgeon worked to replace his knees, for free. Perez could only see the curtain between him and the surgical team. But when they finished and pulled the curtain back, he could not believe his eyes. His legs were straight again, after more than six years.

    “This is what Operation Walk is all about,” said Gurminder Singh Ahuja, his doctor. “It had a dramatic life-changing effect (for Perez). The whole team got emotional.” Perez was walking a few days later.

    Perez’s was one of 48 surgeries performed last October to replace knee and hip joints for the impoverished people of Peru. It was the inaugural medical mission for the nonprofit’s Maryland chapter, founded last year by fellow orthopedic surgeon, Harpal Singh Khanuja, both from The Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore.

    The idea originally came from Harpal Singh and his wife Maria, an orthopedic nurse, who were invited on a medical mission to El Salvador for the nonprofit’s Los Angeles chapter.

    “It was very rewarding to do this work for people and not expecting anything in return,” Harpal Singh said. “It’s really their gratitude that you cherish the most.”

    He and Gurminder Singh hatched out a plan for a chapter in their home state in January 2008, and called on their friend, Prabhjot Singh Likhari, to build the organization.

    The concept was to perform these complicated surgeries on people in the third world where Arthritis progresses to its end stages and reconstructing joints becomes technically challenging, they said. These people either don’t have access to this expertise or can’t afford to go to a big city or fly out of the country to have the surgery.

    They organized 50 medical volunteers to form 5 surgical teams, raised about $125,000 to cover cargo and travel expenses, and secured one-half million dollars in donations of medical equipment and pharmaceutical supplies. The host country only provided hospital space.

    “It was the most gratifying thing I have done,” Gurminder Singh said. Another memorable patient was a woman in her 50’s who had severe Arthritis in her hips. It became very embarrassing for her because she could not sit on a toilet.

    “We did both hips and now she can function,” he said. “She is able to walk again.”

    The trip to Peru was like a training exercise. The framework from a previous mission by the Los Angeles group was still there for the Maryland group to transition easily. They went to the same hospital and took some volunteers from Los Angeles group.

    The goal is to learn the ropes and move on to Punjab, Harpal Singh said. “It’s done more than cross my mind.”

    To coordinate a trip to India would require an extra week’s stay and extra money for cargo, lodging and food. He was initially ready to go to Punjab this year, but when it came time to select a location last November, the Mumbai bombings scared many of the volunteers. Some of them had not been outside of the state of Maryland before the trip to Peru. Perhaps they needed one more trip under their belt, and wait another year to go to Punjab, Harpal Singh said.

    “Our community is very eager to have this done in their own area,” he said. “In some respect, a group of sardars or Sikhs doing seva outside Punjab is more of an education.”

    The Maryland group will go to Ecuador this year, in November. A Los Angeles team went there some time ago, and the people there still need help.

    “I think that it is a good thing; we need to go and show our turbans in a foreign country,” Gurminder Singh added. “I take a moment to tell them who we are… It only benefits us.”

    Although most people in Peru have not seen a Sikh before, Gurminder Singh said he felt quite at ease there.

    “You get strange looks here (in America) from people who don’t know who Sikhs are, you can tell,” he said. “Over there I did not seem like a stranger. They look beyond your looks and look at you as a person there to help.”

    The hardest thing he had to do was to turn away some people who needed help, he said. With limited time and resources, they performed surgeries for the first three days and physical therapy the next two days.

    “The blessings from these patients are incredible,” Harpal Singh said. He remembered one of his patients, a 40-year-old woman, whose knees were fused together in both legs. When she sat in a chair, her legs would stick straight out. He replaced one knee with the idea that if the surgery did not work, she would still have one leg in its original condition.

    The surgery went well. Three months later, when he and a couple of volunteers went back to check on the patients, he replaced the other knee. She can now walk.

    “We feel very blessed and lucky,” Harpal Singh said. “Now is the time to pay back for the fortune we have.”

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