San Diego Spine Foundation


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Sometimes we will pray for something…, we ask for something, but sometimes also some days we become the answer  of those prayers.

I wanted to welcome everyone this morning and I think it will be a great day. 

There are four of us here today from the U.S. side and I think six or seven on the on the Mexican side. Kids with all different reasons for crooked spines come in and they see all the different doctors and we come together with a plan for the week.

I think it still has brought hope to children and their families and so patients are coming from a long way. I mean they travel hours, and sometimes days to get here.

Every family coming here is scared to death that their kids are going to have  a life-threatening surgery. So hug the  parents…, hug the kids…, don't be worrying  about getting in the way. Please dive  right in.  You see these kids and they're so positive and so excited to see you and the parents are so grateful and you see the  problems that needs to be fixed,  and that each kid has a story and it really sticks with you. You may only seem for 10 or 15 minutes but it's so memorable.

The surgeons are doing major spine reconstructions on little kids that have really twisted spines.  You know we're literally taking kids spines apart and putting them back together, so it's not just the spine surgeon, it's the hospital, the facilities, the ICU…, the ICU doctors. It's the pediatricians and nutritionists. It requires a really a big team to get these operations successfully completed.  The cases that we're doing, they're a lot more complex than I see in my practice at home, so this is a great way to continue those skills, and you can apply a lot of the principles that you learn here on my deformity cases that  I have at home that I do.  You can see that smile in the patients, and it’s the best reward you get.

[Dr. Akbarnia with young patient]

I think that I have a very unique position on one of these trips, because I don't have a clinical background, so I feel like I'm able to kind of see from the mother's perspective, or even from the children's perspective in a way that someone in the medical field might lose sight of. I'm able to kind of get down and play and be on their level and hopefully take what some of our medical staff say and translate it through…,  sometimes just a smile, if there's a language barrier, so that they know that we are human too; that we're all in this together.

The collaboration with industry like the Nuvasive Spine Foundation and Global Spine Outreach really allow for this kind of work to be done, and it's one of those situations where it's a win-win. Our partnership with NSF I think is the most beautiful interaction we've had with our industry partners. I love the fact that I really think we're providing better care than I can provide anywhere in the world, because I have all these great minds.

We spent, I think, 60 hours in OR.  That's crazy over-time, but 60 hours changes probably 18 kids’ lives forever.

I think you should put whatever gift someone has given to you and put them into service of others. That's the whole point of it.

I think I've always known that Greg’s first calling was in medicine, but I think until he went on his first Global Spine Outreach trip, did I see that light come on and his passion truly come out.  And just to see the transformation that occurred in my husband, as well as on the physician level was really an incredible thing to be a part of, and it really I think fuels, or refuels our desire to give and to reach those who don’t have access to continuing medical care.

If I could  inspire 50 or 100 surgeons throughout my career to do this kind of work, I think it would be probably my greatest  accomplishment, because then those surgeons would go on to inspire others, and they could really have a worldwide impact.

The fun thing about these kids is that they are happy and loving and caring and so many are just totally normal. They just have this  horrible curvature on their back, so I want to be able to provide them with a more normal life, and I think that drives us to being who we are and doing what we do, and being unapologetic about asking people to come on board with this.


[Mother with emotion]  I can't say it in one word…,   “thank you” …  I can't, because it doesn't exist…, one word that says…,  “Thank you Lord”,  “Thank you God. Thank you God! Thank you!  Thank you all for this.