Student Highlight

The following article was written by UCLA Extension’s Advanced Writing for Marketing student Aldo Palma-Saracho

Personality Profile -- by Aldo 3 -- Final

Nonprofit/documentary staff l. to r.: Dr. Rinella, Daniel Marracino (camera), GSO Director Bridget Mortell, UCLA Extension Instructor Writer-Director Kevin Mardesich, Dr. Uribe, Dr. Bergin, Francisco Latorre (sound).

 American Doctor, Worldly Healer

Illinois doctor Anthony Rinella leads international initiative to save children with life-threatening illnesses

The Hippocratic Oath, held sacred by doctors to this day, begins with a simple premise — treat the sick to the best of one’s ability. And for Spinal Surgeon Dr. Anthony (Tony) Rinella, that oath doesn’t end within the confines of his office. Each year, Dr. Rinella makes the nearly 3,000 mile journey south to the city of Cali, Colombia to live up to this oath, and provide treatment otherwise unavailable to children severely in need.

November 2014 will mark Dr. Rinella’s 20th trip to Colombia, where he has spent the last 10 years performing countless volunteer surgeries.  His non-profit’s name is Global Spinal Outreach (GSO) and is a program he co-founded to help combat the growing numbers of spinal deformities in South America. A specialist in Spinal Deformity, Dr. Rinella treats all sorts of poorly developed spines and gives children a second chance at a life they might give up on otherwise.

With a successful practice in Illinois and so many obstacles internationally, many would wonder why a successful doctor would travel all over the world to make life even more complicated. Simply put by Dr. Rinella – “I don’t want to see these kids dying from a fixable problem. You become a doctor because you want to help people, because the substance of life matters more than the numbers [dollars] of other professional tracks.”

Yet no matter how noble the intentions, Dr. Rinella’s initiative has continued to fight an uphill battle. Beyond the fundamental lack of financial resources and medical services available in developing countries such as Colombia, there also exists a unique cultural hurdle to treating patients. “In very religious countries they often think this is just the way God wanted them to be. So often the biggest challenge can be simply getting patients into the door and through clinic.”

But once the process commences and the healing begins, the results have been astounding. For instance the case of 8-year-old patient Estefania, who upon entering the clinic couldn’t stand let alone walk, and now runs freely around the clinic full of spirit, and hope.

In the immediate future, Dr. Rinella aims to “make sure that Colombia continues because they are now a referral center for all over Central America, the southern Caribbean, and northern South American.”  In the long term he’d like to “replicate the success in as many places as it can be done correctly, all over the world.” And it may very well take many more trips, and many more tears, but it’s something he’s committed to, and will “build one trip at a time.”

To help with this larger goal, Dr. Rinella has enlisted the help of Hollywood writer/director Kevin Mardesich. With a background in screenplay development and public relations writing, the current UCLA Extension instructor is helping mold the inspiring narrative to drive public awareness to their global cause. Applying the same skill-sets that have produced a long and successful Hollywood career, Mr. Mardesich recently joined Dr. Rinella on his latest Colombian visit to put together a short documentary chronicling the mission and successes of Global Spinal Outreach. Serving as both the writer and director of the project, he has done what he does best, and helped craft the inspiring “story” behind GSO.

And much like the ongoing healing and progress of Dr. Ronelli’s patients, the two hope the documentary will plant a crucial seed to inspire the growth of GSO’s cause, and the healing of the world.


Aldo Palma-Saracho
UCLA Extension’s Advanced Writing for Marketing student

“Sample documentary rough-cut footage of GSO nonprofit workers and doctors as well as patient success stories — including Estefania running.”



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