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Andersonville Doctor Selected as a CNN Hero For 2015

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CNN Video Screen capture

The atrocities and ethnic cleansing of the Bosnian War had ended, on a different continent, years before. Yet there were easy reminders of the war for the Bosnian refugees who came to see Dr. Daniel Ivankovich in Chicago between 2000 and 2007. For these refugees, the civil war that killed between an estimated 90,000 and 300,000 people might have been over. But the daily struggle to live their lives continued.

“A couple of them were sad because they had amputations that never were treated appropriately,” the local orthopedic surgeon said on Wednesday. “They had amputations that were not done as well as they could have been. They were young, mid-20s to early 30s. They didn’t come to me looking for a prosthesis. They came for pain.”

The refugees were also coming to a man who, in a different time and in a different country, would have been on the other end of the political fence. Ivankovich’s family is from Croatia and Montenegro. Simply put, at the time of the war, between 1991 and 1995, he would have been their enemy. Yet now, at Provident Hospital of Cook County, Ivankovich was the man they bared their pains to.

“It was very rewarding,” the 51-year-old said. “For me, that was making a political statement. We are all human beings. Politics is bullshit. Being a doctor transcends all that stuff.”

It’s also one more reason that CNN selected Ivankovich as one of its Heroes of 2015. The media company’s annual awards are based on nominations and extensive interviews and seek to highlight everyday people changing the world. Ivankovich, who has a regular practice at Methodist Hospital at the corner of Paulina and Winnemac, also operates a clinic at South Shore Hospital for patients regardless of their ability to pay.

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CNN Video Screen capture

CNN’s award pays tribute to the fact that Ivankovich donates, writes off or just doesn’t bill a significant number of patients. Many of these patients are from Chicago’s most under-served neighborhoods, a press release said. Because many have Medicare or no insurance, Ivankovich is often their only hope.

Ivankovich, along with his wife, Dr. Karla Ivankovich, work to treat the city’s low-income population. They are co-founders of One Patient Global Health Initiative, a not-for-profit 501(c)(3) organization designed to establish sustainable programs of outreach, prevention and patient education at multiple locations throughout the disparate areas of Chicago as well as Haiti.

With community and faith-based initiatives, they strive to improve health outcomes in some of the poorest communities by removing barriers to access and implementing healthcare services one patient at a time.

Ivankovich, also affectionately known as Dr. Dan, said CNN talked to a large number of people including people he works with, politicians, hospital administrators and others in the hospital field before naming him as a CNN Hero.

“It’s a pretty amazing show that they’ve got,” he said. “They feature some pretty incredible people. It’s very humbling to be a part of it.”

A 1995 graduate of Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, Ivankovich studied at Rush University Medical Center, John H. Stroger Jr. Hospital of Cook County and Shriner’s Hospitals for Children in Chicago. He received additional fellowship training in reconstructive spine and traumatology at Northwestern Memorial Hospital and the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago.

He was named one of Chicago Magazine’s six Chicagoans of the Year in 2010. Also in 2010, he was named the National Association of Social Workers Chicago Chapter’s Public Citizen of the Year. In 2011, he was awarded the Dana & Christopher Reeves Foundation Inspiration Award.

Ivankovich grew up in Chicago’s Uptown, Edgewater and Ravenswood neighborhoods before moving to Glenview, Illinois, to attend high school and play basketball. He became an All-American basketball player, playing on teams in the inner city. Through his medical training and by interacting with city residents throughout his life, he realized that patients receive different levels of care based on their income and race. At Rush University Medical Center, patients could come into the hospital and be booked two weeks later for surgery, he said. But at the old, now-closed Cook County Hospital, “they were waiting for five years. It bothered me that the solution was not that complicated but, for whatever reason, the system malaise and bureaucracy prevented these folks from getting what they need.”

Pain can lead to progressive disability that can ultimately result in a crippling deformity, he said. “Literally before your eyes, you are watching people disintegrate,” Ivankovich said. “The buck stops here. To me, it became a cause, it became a mission, and that’s what I committed my career to.”

He isn’t quick to suggest surgery for his patients, unless it’s clear they absolutely need it. Ivankovich said he works to build rapport with his patients and that “it takes a village” to find the best approaches to help his patients improve their health. “I start the day as a patient advocate and social worker, and it kind of evolves from that,” he said.

He also knows the pain that some of his patients experience every day. He’s had 13 knee surgeries and suffers from arthritis, so “when I talk to these 30- 40- and 50-year-olds that are told they have arthritis and they need a new knee or hip, I tell them … I’m your doctor, but I’m in the same boat you are in.”

In the 20 years that Ivankovich has been providing care for low-income patients, he’s had more than 100,000 patient visits and has performed more than 10,000 surgical procedures. Word of his efforts has spread. One wheelchair-bound patient didn’t even live in Illinois when he came to Ivankovich for help. Jeffrey Jackson, who was from Pennsylvania, was 61 — too young to be eligible for Medicare. So Ivankovich applied to orthopedic companies to donate a hip, and the hospital gave the local doctor permission to care for him. Now, Jackson is able to walk.

“He came in and everything worked out great,” Ivankovich said. “The whole kind of pay it forward thing: I don’t expect anything from anybody, other than the knowledge that I did something good by them. But from the patient standpoint, look, you don’t owe me, but you owe somebody. You have to pay it forward. Jeffrey Jackson has been volunteering in his community, and his daughter became a nurse, and she’s awesome. That’s one of those happy endings.”

Ivankovich said that while the Affordable Care Act has expanded medical care options, the reality is that many specialists don’t accept that insurance. He said he is working with specific systems in Chicago that have his same vision and mission, but that’s not the majority.

“What our goal is right now is to create a model that other cities can take on, and that has been the goal from the beginning,” he said. “We are on the verge of a partnership with a hospital system, and we are going to see what we can do from the ground up on creating a holistic program, using the latest technology, to try to really involve these patients and communities and community leaders to try to promote the health and wellness of these patients. It will be very, very interesting.”

Ivankovich declined to provide more details at this time, other than to say his organization has been in talks with three communities and he hopes the plan will be put in motion by 2016.

“Once you figure out a solution that cares for the lowest common denominator, in that most challenged socioeconomic demographic, and you can bring them health awareness and make them depend on themselves, personal empowerment is going to be the driver,” he said. “Systems don’t take care of patients. At the end of the day, the ultimate relationship is between the patient and the doctor, and, ultimately, we work for the patient and the patient’s health. Until then, it’s just going to continue to be like it is. In my lifetime, we will see this reinvention of health care in America.”


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