REDWOOD CITY (CBS 5) – Eric Taulepa had been waiting months for surgery to fix his hernia. He’d still be waiting if it wasn’t for Dr. John Ngai and his volunteer team at the Kaiser Permanente Redwood City Medical Center.

“See you in the operating room,” Ngai told Taulepa as nurses prepped the patient for the procedure.

Ngai helped organize this day of free surgeries for people without health insurance, through the nonprofit organization Operation Access. The all-volunteer effort made a world of difference to Taulepa, who hasn’t been able to work at his shipyard job for almost a year.

“It’s very painful and it’s very hard sometimes,” Taulepa said.

“He’s on disability, waiting for an operation for months,” Ngai explained. “So we take care of him. Health care costs are escalating out of control and if you can take care of the little problems before they become huge problems, you save hundreds of thousands of dollars on just little, little simple cases.”

On this day, Dr Ngai and his team worked on hernias, cataracts, and outpatient knee repairs. He recruits volunteers and organize these Operation Access Days. Twenty of his colleagues from nurses to anesthesiologists pitch in to help.

For 18 years, Operation Access has been bringing free specialty medical care to low income and uninsured people in the Bay Area. More than 7500 patients have been treated in 33 different participating hospitals, but the success of the program depends on the generosity and enthusiasm of health care professionals like Dr. John Ngai. He’s performed more 100 of these surgeries four or five times a year. Surgery days take a lot of coordination, but Ngai said it’s the best feeling in the world.

“Since we all live in the same community, we all share the same place, and we should help each other out,” Ngai said. “I think that’s probably what drives me to do this.”

For Eric Taulepa, after suffering for months, his surgery means everything to his family.

“They very happy and last night they say a prayer for everybody to do a good job and make everybody happy,” he said.

(Copyright 2011 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)


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