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Seva of Motion

By Anju Kaur, SikhNN staff writer, Washington Bureau
Posted: Friday, February 25, 2011 | 02:11 pm

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Photo Source: Operation Walk Maryland

A tour bus brought the Operation Walk Maryland team of 45 back and forth from the hospital every day.

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Photo Source: Operation Walk Maryland

Operation Walk Maryland team of 45 personnel in front of Dayanand Medical College and Hospital in Ludhiana

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Photo Source: Operation Walk Maryland

The team begins screening the 80 patient candidates that the hospital identified. Only 47 were viable for the surgeries.

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Photo Source: Operation Walk Maryland

Daljeet Singh Saluja, a Baltimore internist, screens a patient candidate.

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Photo Source: Operation Walk Maryland

Vivek Sood and Gurminder Singh Ahuja, both Baltimore orthopedic surgeons, screen a patient candidate.

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Photo Source: Operation Walk Maryland

Harpal Singh Khanuja, Baltimore orthopedic surgeon and founder of Operation Walk Maryland, top left, and Prabhjot Singh Likhari, chairman of the board of directors, top right, are in the screening area of the hospital.

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Photo Source: Operation Walk Maryland

Patients awaiting screening.

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Photo Source: Operation Walk Maryland

Ready for surgery. Six American orthopedic surgeons, led by two Sikh surgeons from the non-profit Operation Walk Maryland, led a team of 45 medical personnel who performed 59 free knee and hip surgeries in Ludhiana. Left to right: Gurminder Singh Ahuja, Vivek Sood, Robert Sterling, Harpal Singh Khanuja, Simon Mears and C. Lowry Barnes.

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Photo Source: Operation Walk Maryland

A patients receives a shot in the back before surgery.

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Photo Source: Operation Walk Maryland

Doctors performed 59 knee and hip surgeries in three and one-half days.

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Photo Source: Operation Walk Maryland

C. Lowry Barnes, left, an orthopedic surgeon from Arkansas, performs surgery with Harpal Singh Khanuja, right.

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Photo Source: Operation Walk Maryland

Gurminder Singh Ahuja, an orthopedic surgeon from Baltimore and a member of the board of directors of Operation Walk Maryland, in surgery.

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Gurminder Singh Ahuja.

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After surgery, patients are sent to the recovery room.

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All of the patients were memorable but Sanjay Kumar was unforgettable. With his spine and hips fused together, doctors initially though they could not help him but then managed to remove part of his hips so that he could sit for the first time in eight years.

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Photo Source: Operation Walk Maryland

Doctors Vivek Sood and Harpal Singh Khanuja with a recovering patient.

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Photo Source: Operation Walk Maryland

Dr. Robert Sterling with a recovering patient.

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Dr. Simon Mears and Dr. Vivek Sood with a recovering patient.

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Dr. Robert Sterling with a recovering patient.

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Dr. Robert Sterling with another recovering patient.

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Patients began to walk within two days after surgery.

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Dr. Daljeet Singh Saluja with a patient still awaiting his surgery.

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A change of plans brought the team to Darbaar Sahib before going to the hospital. "We received all our blessings beforehand." - Dr. Gurminder Singh Ahuja.

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Photo Source: Operation Walk Maryland

The SGPC provided a walking tour of Darbaar Sahib and of its langar preparations.

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The team was amazed by the amount of food that is prepared everyday at Darbaar Sahib.

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In India, the hospital spent the next year upgrading its orthopedic department to conform to international standards, according to news reports. It began a search for candidates by posting flyers at gurdwaaraas, mandirs and throughout the city and rural areas. Its orthopedists identified and screened prospective patients for about six months.

In the United States, Prabhjot Singh planned the logistics and funding: finding sponsors, equipment donors, medicine donors, and transportation discounts for people and cargo. Shipping the medical equipment alone costs up to $30,000. The total cost can add up to $150,000.

Harpal Singh and Gurminder Singh put together the medical team: surgeons, doctors, nurses, implant specialists, technicians and therapists. They found an American company, Zimmer, to donate the replacement joints, which cost about $200,000.

The real cost of this endeavor is far greater because it does not include the services of the medical team, which also are donated. Considering that each surgery costs about $20,000 in the United States, this effort is very cost efficient, Harpal Singh said.

The 10-day tour of duty began on Jan. 26. They spent a few days screening and preparing patients, performed three-and-a-half days of surgery, spent the rest of the days rehabilitating patients, and left on Feb. 5.

“Nothing on this scale had ever been done over there,” Prabhjot Singh said. There had been eye surgeries where one or two surgeons go and volunteer. But this team had a tour bus parked outside the hospital, loading everyone in and out every day.

“It was awesome,” Harpal Singh said. “It was definitely the most successful trip in terms of the number joints we could do.” There were 47 patients who received 59 joints. Some received double implants.

Compared to the United States where mostly older people receive joint replacements, in India the patients were younger, in their thirties and forties. And because it was Punjab, most were Sikh, at least in name.

“It was depressing to see that a lot of them cut their hair and were shaving,” Harpal Singh said. “It bugged me a little.” It bugged all the Sikhs on the team but there also were many memorable patients who had kept their roop.

There was an aunty who did not want to take off her kirpaan and karaa for her surgery, Harpal Singh said. The doctors were afraid that an electrical current would go through her body, but she kept them on as they replaced her knee.

There was an uncle who was so determined and confident that he was going to walk again, Gurminder Singh said. Knee replacement is a painful procedure but the day after he had both knees replaced, he got up and started walking. He had an I-told-you-so smile on his face.

And there was another aunty who had been unable to walk for about 15 years, Daljeet Singh said. She could not do housework or go to the gurdwaaraa. There is no such thing as handicap access in India. Her greatest desire was to walk up the steps to the darbaar hall and listen to shabad keertan. When she began to walk, her family was speechless. They could not believe it.

“I have to give credit to the patients,” he added. “Their belief in God is so strong, that something better is on the way, and Waheguru would not let us suffer… This was the highlight of my career and personal life. I got just as much back if not more.”

Every patient had his or her own dramatic story. But the one common story they all took back home was their experience with the Sikh doctors from America.

“They took pictures of us,” Daljeet Singh said. “They were surprised that we were born and raised in American and still looked the way we do.”

“People were just shocked to see sardaars with full dhaarees from the United States,” Harpal Singh added. “(They) were impressed with how strong our ties were with Sikhism. It made them feel proud.

“And we were proud to be giving back,” he said. “I knew I would come to India to do sevaa. It’s one thing to volunteer in a clinic but to take team of 45 people to do that many surgeries was phenomenal.”






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