But the orthopedic surgeon saw people at the opposite end of the spectrum during a trip to Colombia, where he spent a week performing surgeries pro bono on young scoliosis patients who hadn't received proper medical care. And even at his own practice - DISC Sports and Spine Center on Mindanao Way - Melamed knows of patients who have lost their jobs and, as a result, their medical coverage.
Those stories - particularly from patients he treated in Colombia and on another trip to Haiti - have prompted the 39-year-old surgeon to launch a charitable initiative called Back to You.
He's offering treatment to people who are both suffering and in need, and has pledged to help one per month - for free.
"I'm looking for someone who frankly can't afford it, and they have a significant problem," said Melamed, who treats people suffering from spine curvature and trauma, degenerative disc disease and other problems. He specializes in minimally invasive spinal surgery.
A graduate of the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, Melamed joined DISC Sports and Spine Center in May 2005 after finishing his residency at the University of Illinois at Chicago and then a fellowship in complex spine surgery at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.
Since launching Back to You several weeks ago, Melamed already has received emails from people seeking help - all of whom will be considered by the surgeon and his colleagues as they select recipients.
So far, there's at least one story that has moved him; it came from a 20-year-old man and former high school wrestler who was supposed to have surgery to repair a pars stress fracture - a crack in part of the lower vertebra called the pars interarticularis. Instead, the man ended up undergoing a fusion procedure from which he hasn't recovered, and that's left him in constant pain, Melamed said. Any sporting activity makes it worse.
Although he can't undo the procedure, he could go back and see whether it was done correctly. "That little one-level fusion ... on someone who's an elite-level professional athlete, it could end their career," he said.
Melamed comes from a family of successful medical professionals. His father is a former emergency room doctor and two uncles on his mother's side are orthopedic surgeons. His mother, like his younger brother, is a pharmacist.
But it's not like he didn't see his parents struggle.
Melamed and his family, who are Jewish, fled their native Iran during the Iran-Iraq conflict when the surgeon was 12. Melamed, his brother and his mother left first for Italy, spending more than five months there before moving to the United States. Immigrating to the country meant giving up their Iranian citizenship, leaving behind their wealth and "starting from scratch."
At the time, Melamed said, the United States was giving visas either through Italy or Austria. More than a year passed before the family was together again; Melamed's father didn't leave Iran until after his wife and sons did, and spent time in Austria before joining them in the United States.
"The whole thing was to leave before I was 13" to ensure he wouldn't get drafted into the military, Melamed said.
Once the family was reunited in Los Angeles, his mother, Shana Melamed, worked on getting her pharmacy certifications in California. His father, Houshang Melamed, had been head of emergency at two hospitals before leaving Iran, but followed a different path and went into the fabric business; it would have been too hard for his father to start his career all over again.
"He gave up all that to care for me and my brother so we could have a better life," Melamed said.
His mother in 1994 bought Rox San Pharmacy in Beverly Hills, where his brother, Hootan, also works.
"In the beginning we didn't have health insurance because we had no money. We were living on savings," he said. "But as we grew (up) we were able to afford insurance."
Health problems weren't an issue when the family was struggling to make a new life for themselves in Los Angeles. But others aren't as lucky.
"It's just sad," Melamed said, "when you hear your own patients tell you these stories."
Find out moreThose who want to be considered for a free treatment by Dr. Hooman Melamed can share their stories and conditions in an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. A board consisting of Melamed and his staff will consider them and choose the recipients.
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