SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) – One volunteer job turned into a lifelong, worldwide mission for this week’s Jefferson Award winner. Doctors at UCSF told KPIX 5 they’re awed by her commitment.

“I have never in my life met someone more dedicated, more determined, or more capable than Laura Escobosa,” said UCSF orthopedic surgeon Dr. Dave Atkin.

“She’s an amazing person,” added UCSF anesthesiologist Dr. Philip Bickler. “She could be an ambassador or diplomat. She is that good.”

It’s high praise for a woman who, without a medical degree, has done more to help patients around the world than you can imagine. For 23 years, Laura Escobosa has led Operation Rainbow, a non-profit organization that provides free orthopedic surgery to needy children in underdeveloped countries.

Escobosa, who speaks five languages, first volunteered to go as a translator with one of the first teams of doctors who traveled from the Bay Area to Guatemala in 1990.

“This one experience was so overwhelming because, in one operation, they can change the life of a child,” she remembered.

From that point on, this wife and mother took it upon herself to handle all the details for the next mission… and the next. One hundred missions later, she is still at the helm.

A typical Operation Rainbow mission consists of up to 30 volunteer surgeons, anesthesiologists, nurses, and technicians from hospitals around the Bay Area and beyond. They bring all their own equipment, medicine, and supplies so that during their week-long trip they can see hundreds of patients and perform dozens of life-changing surgeries.

Escobosa said she has seen it all in the planning of these trips, from canceled flights to power and water disruptions, even a hurricane evacuation. The logistics are staggering, but by far the biggest challenge these days is the bureaucracy she navigates from her tiny home office.

“The governments change frequently over there,” she explained. “We have had problems – problems are part of this package deal!”

Dr. Atkin has gone on 25 trips and says the teaching aspect of these missions is critical.

“Our goal is to create independence in the physicians, nurses, and technicians that we meet so that they can care for their own people,” Atkin said.

“When you see the need, when you see the people who would never (otherwise) get the medical care they need, everyone just bands together and really works hard for the week we are there,” added Dr. Philip Bickler.

And no one works harder than Laura Escobosa.

So for coordinating the humanitarian missions of Operation Rainbow and changing the lives of children around the world, this week’s Jefferson Award in the Bay Area goes to Laura Escobosa.

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