Knows the secret to happiness.
“It’s not in what you have but in what you can give away,” she says.
Dual certified in obstetrics/gynecology (OB/GYN) and surgery, Dhanda is renowned for revolutionizing women’s health care in poverty-stricken Northern California. She now heads up a global initiative to do the same. Through her mission, Worldwide Healing Hands, Dhanda helps save lives and improve healthcare for impoverished women around the world.
“Something happens to you, when you leave your family, friends and comforts behind to care for strangers,” she adds. “You discover the opportunity to touch lives in a lasting way.”
Dhanda’s philosophy is part of a family legacy.
As a young girl in Bombay (now Mumbai), India, she watched her surgeon father attentively serve the city’s large indigent population.
“There was and still is a lot of poverty there,” recalls Dhanda. “He provided free care to many people who could not afford to pay.” In 1990, she decided to follow in her father’s footsteps. She left her practice in affluent Beverly Hills and relocated to rural Lake County, CA.
“People don’t usually associate California with poverty,” says Dhanda. “I live and work in one of the most beautiful areas in California but the beauty cannot hide the fact that it is one of the poorest counties in the United States.”
The county’s indigent population lacked access to even the most basic care. Women lacked comprehensive gynecologic and pre-natal care, which resulted in a high number of still-born babies. Dhanda sought to change this when she established a comprehensive obstetrics program in one of the county’s hospitals.
She later founded the Specialty Care and Surgery Center in Kelseyville, CA, with her husband, John Clarke, a certified registered nurse anesthetist (CRNA). The ambulatory surgery center (ASC) provides comprehensive healthcare to women of all ages and stature.
Dhanda also introduced Lake County to laparoscopic and laser surgeries, which are less invasive and patients’ recoveries are much faster.
Dhanda began to make international rounds in 2009, when a fellow surgeon invited her to participate in a medical mission in Chad, Africa. Dhanda hoped to help a few women and children in need of medical attention, and perhaps educate Chad’s health care professionals. Instead, she and her surgical team performed 50 surgeries and delivered several high-risk babies during their two-weeks at Béré Adventist Hospital.
It took Dhanda time to recover, emotionally, from the poverty, malnutrition and poor medical care she witnessed in Chad. But Dhanda knew she found her passion.
“I went there to give but the people gave me more,” says Dhanda. “When I saw the women without access to medical care and having to endure daily hardships and struggle to live with dignity, I realized that I could take the models that I developed in Chad and apply them in other places.”
To help support her medical missions, (which cost an average of $25,000 each) Dhanda launched a personal skincare line (Dr. Paula’s Skincare). One hundred percent of the profits go to Worldwide Healing Hands, the non-profit foundation Dhanda also established to help fund her mission trips.
The foundation will help Dhanda and her team travel to Nepal this year. Her last two trips have been to Haiti. In fact, Dhanda dedicated her 2011 trip to Haiti as a “Gift of Community Service,” a service initiative launched by Canisius College in honor of President John J. Hurley’s inauguration.
“Canisius gave me a good start in my career to become a doctor and reinforced the altruistic value system that was instilled in me as a child,” says Dhanda. “A big part of my mission is to teach. I don’t like to go anywhere where I am not able to leave something behind.”
It’s been 20 years since Dhanda first began to provide high-standard healthcare to indigent populations. In 2010, the faith-based, non-profit healthcare system Adventist Health presented Dhanda with its Physician of the Year Award. Although honored to be recognized by her peers, it’s Dhanda’s patients who keep her resolute in her medical mission.
“The need is great and at times I have an overwhelming sense of inadequacy in the face of such monumental suffering,” she says. “But I only have to recall the face of one child or woman whose life I have saved to renew my belief in what we humans are able to accomplish when we all work together for a common purpose.” She adds, “Everyone has talents to share and I encourage people to find their passion.”
Dhanda did, and she touched the lives of countless women and children in lasting ways.