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CHOC neurosurgeon reflects on 2020, community impact

Dr. Joffre Olaya, a CHOC pediatric neurosurgeon, was recently named one of Orange County’s 25 Most Influential by Modern Luxury magazine. In this Q&A, he shares more about what he’s learned from 2020, the privilege of caring for a vulnerable population, and his work with as medical advisory chair for Make-A-Wish Orange County and the Inland Empire.

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Dr. Joffre Olaya, a CHOC pediatric neurosurgeon

How would you describe your mission?

As a husband and father, my personal mission is to keep my family safe, healthy and happy. As a pediatric neurosurgeon and physician leader, I want those same essential things for everyone else in the community. I support CHOC’s mission to nurture, advance and protect the health and well-being of children, as well as Make-A-Wish’s mission to create life-changing wishes for children with critical illnesses.

How does your work help the community?

I take pride in working alongside the incredible team of clinicians at CHOC’s Neuroscience Institute. Every day, we have the privilege of caring for the most vulnerable population. Shouldering this responsibility propels us to deliver the best possible care to our patients facing neurological disorders. I’m humbled that parents entrust us every day with their children’s medical care. I’m excited about the leading-edge technology at our fingertips making pediatric neurosurgical procedures safer and less invasive.

I also value my role as medical advisory chair for Make-A-Wish Orange County and the Inland Empire. From treatment to making a wish come true, I am involved in every step of a child’s journey inspiring hope. I’m a firm believer in the mind-body benefits of a wish — it truly brings a renewed energy to a child and is a critical part of their healing process.

What do you hope the world learns from these challenging times?

I hope we all realize how resilient we truly are as a community. Medical providers have quickly adapted to new guidelines amid a pandemic to continue providing safe, quality care for patients. Parents and caregivers have taken on additional responsibilities while trying to keep their families safe. Our community is learning to juggle even more than we already were.

What is your 2020 motto?

Appreciate the little things. Our lives have changed from having the freedom and safety of going anywhere, seeing anyone and doing anything. Now, for everyone’s safety, we go only where necessary, limit social interaction, — even from family, — and restrict our activities to keep our community healthy. I have learned to “stop and smell the roses.” I appreciate Sunday breakfast with my kids, a morning walk with my wife before work, the beauty of nature during those walks, and the refreshed feeling after getting a good night’s sleep.

What do you recommend to those that want to follow in your footsteps?

Set a goal, make a plan, find mentors and work hard to achieve your dream. Having grown up in poverty, I never would have imagined doing what I get to do today as a pediatric neurosurgeon. I love what I do and couldn’t imagine doing anything else. I have the opportunity to help others on a daily basis. I believe that devoting my life to helping others is the most rewarding thing I can do with my life.

What has been your silver lining this year?

The pandemic has forced us as a society to slow down. Personally, this has given me the opportunity to prioritize what is truly important. I have focused on spending more time with my family and taking care of my own health. Having limited travel options, I have truly enjoyed spending more time outdoors and hiking locally.

What does the world need more of now?

Hope. It is a scary time right now with people feeling threatened with their health and personal safety. After the realization of the pandemic, society has learned that our sense of reality can change in an instant and things are uncertain. Working at CHOC and with Make-A-Wish I have learned to appreciate how much hope can improve the outcome of a person’s life.

Learn more about CHOC's Neuroscience Institute

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