Jeremiah Wang was looking at a glucose strip in a crowded, makeshift clinic in Mexico when he knew he had made the right decision to become a doctor.

The then-first year student at the Keck School of Medicine of USC was a volunteer with Healing Hearts Across Borders (HHAB), a nonprofit organization that brings dozens of medical volunteers to Tijuana to provide free health care to some of the border city’s poorest areas. The effort was founded in 1999 by the late Kevin Lake, MD, and is now led by a team of doctors.

“Some of the patients have A1C (glycosylated hemoglobin) levels that are literally off the chart,” said Wang, now in his second year at the Keck School. “A1C is how we measure if someone is diabetic. A 6.5 or below is normal, but in Mexico we see numbers as high as 15 and 16 in relatively young people, and even teenagers.”

The 26-year-old has returned to Mexico six more times to participate in the volunteer effort and has even run a marathon to prove how strongly he believes in being able to provide quality health care to those who need it most.

“Last year, a friend of mine organized a Keck School marathon team to raise funds for HHAB,” Wang said. “I was so inspired, not only was she putting her money where her mouth is, but that she was actually going to run the Los Angeles Marathon. So I joined her and it was the most painful thing I’ve ever done in my life, but it was also the greatest.”

Wang is coordinating this year’s Keck School marathon team and plans to organize the fundraising effort to benefit HHAB. The 2015 Keck School team raised $5,000, which is enough to fund one of HHAB’s four annual trips, so Wang hopes to at least match that amount in the 2016 Marathon, since the entire effort is funded through monetary and in-kind donations.

“The glucometers were all donated and one of my instructors donated a baby scale,” Wang said. “Every little thing helps the cause.”

“As a medical student, you do get very good exposure to patients at (Los Angeles County + USC Medical Center),” said Wang, who now is one of HHAB’s co-presidents overseeing student involvement. “But in Tijuana, you really do get hands-on experience. You get to shadow doctors and they explain what they are doing, every step of the way. They say this is the purest form of medicine we can practice because there’s no bureaucracy; if you have a question for the pharmacy, you walk over to the pharmacy.”

For more information about the HHAB marathon team, contact

— Melissa Masatani