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CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- It is a world away -- Nigeria.

But a medical team from here in Charlotte traveled to the African nation this past September to perform the kind of surgeries people there typically have no access to.

The Charlotte team even helped some patients walk for the first time.

Chioma is 20 and has walked with pain on a diseased hip since she was just five years old.

Despite her agony, she and her mother made the long trek from their remote village to a makeshift hospital in Nigeria after word spread that some American doctors would be in town.

In a span of 24 hours this woman walked almost 40 miles, on the hopes that we could potentially do something that would change her life. She s never been able to walk pain free, said Dr. Neal Sheth of Charlotte s Ortho Carolina.

It was the idea of this kind of patient that brought the Charlotte orthopedic surgeon and his team here. Sheth organized the trip in honor of his mentor -- a Nigerian doctor who went back regularly to help the people in his homeland.

While he was there he passed away because he essentially fell victim to the actual system he was trying to change, Sheth said.

They raised thousands of dollars from the Charlotte community, shipped over 25, 000 pounds of donated equipment and traveled 30 hours to the other side of the world.

More than 200 people lined up as potential patients.

They couldn't possibly get to everyone.

We were determined we would operate until midnight every night if we had to in order to help as many people as we could help, said Sheth.

That meant working 16 hour days in searing heat with no air conditioning.

There were times when they didn't even have lights

People ran for cell phones and we had a wonderful photographer -- everybody held their cell phones and their light sources up so we could see, said nurse Amy Mills.

Seventeen patients in all got total joint replacements -- and a new start in life.

All of these patients have become so accustomed to pain in their life that not one patient out of 17 took any pain medication. They took Tylenol I ve never seen that before, Sheth said. Chioma was the second patient that I saw and you saw her wince with every step she took and right away you could tell something was wrong with her hip. At that point I just knew I had to do something to help this girl...she had no hope and she s been like this for so long.

The team did a total hip replacement, and Dr. Sheth was there when Chioma took her first steps.

To see her walk and not have that limp -- slow but walk -- we knew we had changed her life.
And in the process -- changed their own lives. All say they plan to go back.

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