An Ambulance Named Anna

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"The villiage names all its vehicles as a reflection of gratitude. When the community health leader told me they named the ambulance 'Anna,' I was truly honored."
- Anna Kulidjian, MD

Standing atop Mt. Kilimanjaro, Dr. Anna Kulidjian paused to marvel at the sprawling, gorgeous African plains below. Somewhere in the misty distance lay the Kenyan village of Chyulu Hills — the reason Kulidjian had climbed the world’s tallest free-standing mountain.

Though she couldn’t see it, Kulidjian knew the Maasai village well. Situated on protected land, the village is surrounded by national parks, abundant with forests, rivers and wildlife. What the residents of Chyulu Hills lack is medical care.

Kulidjian is trying to remedy that. An orthopedic surgeon at UC San Diego Health, she is working with colleagues, organizations and donors to set up medical services in Chyulu Hills. The trek up the 20,000-foot Kilimanjaro, arranged in collaboration with the Maasai Wilderness Conservation Trust, was designed to raise money to buy an ambulance for the village.

“From donating medical equipment to raising money for an ambulance, our team has made it their professional and personal mission to organize health care projects around the world that help educate surgeons and improve patient care,” Kulidjian said.

In the case of Chyulu Hills, an ambulance was desperately needed to transport patients with life-threatening conditions and to reach remote areas not currently served by health care facilities.

Anna Kulidjian, MD

Anna Kulidjian with patient.

“The village names all its vehicles as a reflection of gratitude,” said Kulidjian. “When the community health leader told me they named the ambulance ‘Anna,’ I was truly honored.”

“Anna” the ambulance has quickly proven its value, said Kulidjian. It was recently used to save the life of a mother and her premature baby who likely would not have survived without fast emergency transportation.

“Stories like that touch me deeply and give me the energy to continue our grass-roots efforts,” she said.

The ambulance is just part of the story, however. Kulidjian and her team have also successfully performed 24 hip replacement surgeries in Armenia — a landlocked, mountainous country in the South Caucasus region of Eurasia.

Joint replacement surgeries in Armenia have been plagued by high infection and dislocation rates. Kulidjian’s visiting team of surgeons and doctors worked around the clock for a week teaching the Armenian orthopedic surgeons new techniques and practices related to device placement, physical therapy, anesthesia and operating room safety for sterilization.

The result: Patients who thought they would never walk again are now fully mobile.

“I was born in Armenia, so this experience was very personal to me,” Kulidjian said. “It was challenging, both emotionally and physically, and I realized what a privilege it was to have been educated in the United States. The patients were calling us ‘angels from heaven,’ and I will never forget the meaning of that trip.”

Always More to be Done

Kulidjian performs hip replacement in Armenia.

Kulidjian performs hip replacement in Armenia.

Kulidjian applies the lessons and professional skills learned through her humanitarian efforts overseas to her work at UC San Diego Health. “These missions have given me more compassion for patients and have taught me how to be more resourceful and a stronger team player. They’ve also built up my confidence level when dealing with complex surgical problems,” she said. She is currently working on a formal collaboration with UC San Diego Health and the Maasai Wilderness Conservation Trust for an “Adopt a Village” program that will continue to bring education and medical care to underserved areas.

“Whether climbing Africa’s tallest mountain or holding the hand of an Armenian grandmother who is walking for the first time in years, I am always appreciative of everything around me and am hit with the reality that there is always more that can be done around our world,” Kulidjian said.

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