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Healing Chicago's 'mean streets' one patient at a time

Story highlights

  • Dr. Daniel Ivankovich has treated more than 200 victims of gun violence in Chicago
  • Nominations are open for 2016 CNN Heroes

Chicago (CNN)When gun violence in Chicago hits the headlines, it comes as no surprise to Dr. Daniel Ivankovich.

"They're the mean streets," said Ivankovich, an orthopedic surgeon who works in many of the city's troubled neighborhoods. "People call them the killing fields."
    But Ivankovich, who has treated more than 200 victims of gun violence in Chicago, sees a broader issue than gangs and crime. His primary focus is on a whole other layer of patients who need his care.
    "These are definitely some of the most challenged communities in America," he said. "No matter what you look at -- crime, health, life expectancy -- it's really bad."
    For 20 years, Ivankovich witnessed countless people struggling to get medical treatment because they did not have insurance or were underinsured. They were put on wait lists for months, even years, just to receive basic procedures, and their injuries got worse.
    "I thought to myself, this is happening in America?" he said.
    So Ivankovich vowed to treat patients regardless of their ability to pay. In 2010, he co-founded the nonprofit OnePatient Global Health Initiative.
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    Today, Ivankovich runs three clinics in Chicago and performs more than 600 surgeries a year. He says more than 100,000 people have benefited from the program.
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    "I know I can't fix everybody," he said. "My goal is to be the battering ram to help break down the barriers to get these patients the care and the resources they need."
    CNN's Laura Klairmont spoke with Ivankovich about the motivation behind his work. Below is an edited version of their conversation:
    CNN: You've seen a lot of violence on the West and South Sides of Chicago.
    Daniel Ivankovich: When the temperature gets up above 85 degrees, violent crimes -- they skyrocket. Victims of violent crime come through our doorstep every day. It's something that is so common that we almost are desensitized to it.
    One of our clinics used to be at the intersection of Jackson (Boulevard) and Laramie (Avenue). We had to leave because we saw a young teen get shot at point-blank just outside the door of our clinic. Over the course of a year we witnessed four murders just on that intersection. It was like we were in the middle of a war zone.
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    CNN: Your bigger mission is to help people who lack medical insurance. Why?
    Ivankovich: Many people who are uninsured or on Medicaid are forced to ignore their health issues. So when they can't put it off anymore, they use emergency rooms as their primary source of medical treatment and aren't able to access any follow-up care, which could potentially cause a basic injury to become life-threatening.
    Oftentimes when a patient's finally made it to our clinic, they tell me they've been hung up on by 10 or 12 other physician providers because they don't have insurance. It's heartbreaking when you hear the struggles that the patients have to go through for the basics.
    CNN: Can anyone come to your clinics for medical care?
    Ivankovich: We take care of everybody, regardless of insurance and without prejudice.
    The conditions that we treat are orthopedics, which is fractures, sports medicine, spinal reconstruction, and we do major joint reconstruction, primarily hips and knees. Every day we are in the operating room, and we are doing between two and five procedures.
    In every one of the clinics, we never turn away a patient.
    CNN: What's your hope for Chicago's future?
    Ivankovich: For these communities, we're trying to build a future that's healthier, less painful and a whole lot more mobile. My focus is to help them reach their potential and to just give them their life back.
    I work every day to give hope to a hopeless situation. I have the opportunity to transform their lives. It's incredible when you see them taking their life back and you see them owning their health and their wellness. There's no greater feeling in the whole world.
    Want to get involved? Check out the OnePatient Global Health Initiative website at onepatient.org to learn how you can help.