2012-12-20 / Community

Agoura couple brings hope, medical training to distant lands

. Physician and his wife just completed a monthlong medical mission in West Africa
By Sylvie Belmond


MENTOR—Dr. Neil Shocker discusses patient care with emergency room physicians in Ghana, Africa. MENTOR—Dr. Neil Shocker discusses patient care with emergency room physicians in Ghana, Africa. Physicians should always treat their patients with respect and compassion, says Dr. Neil Shocket of Agoura Hills.

The doctor and his wife, Lori Justice-Shocket, recently completed a monthlong volunteer medical mission in West Africa with the global health education organization Project Hope.

Founded in 1958, Project Hope—“Hope” is an acronym for Health Opportunities for People Everywhere—operates in 36 countries and on hospital ships in collaboration with the U.S. Navy to provide medical care for underserved communities.

The couple said the Virginiabased organization is a perfect match for them because it aims to help people help themselves.

At the Komfo Anokye Teaching Hospital in Kumasi, Ghana, the couple helped care for patients and teach emergency room doctors the techniques and practices of American physicians.


RENEWAL—Neil and Lori Shocket participate in a traditional Quetchua wedding in Peru during one of their recent medical missions. The couple has renewed their vows several times in different countries. RENEWAL—Neil and Lori Shocket participate in a traditional Quetchua wedding in Peru during one of their recent medical missions. The couple has renewed their vows several times in different countries. They also spearheaded a campaign called “Human Element” to remind doctors and medical workers that compassion is an essential part of medicine.

When people are treated with dignity, it allows them to feel safe and eases their pain, Shocket said.

“It was nice to watch doctors gradually transform as they learned to acknowledge and address their patients’ needs,” said Justice- Shocket, 57, who in 1975 was one of the first female paramedics in Los Angeles.

She met Shocket in 2000 and they married in 2001. The graphic designer enrolled in premed classes so she also could participate in medical missions. She earned her medical degree early this month from the International University of Health Sciences in St. Kitts, a small Caribbean island.

In addition to volunteering in Ghana and at clinics in the Los Angeles region, the Shockets have traveled to Mississippi, Israel, Kenya, Uganda, Ecuador, Peru, Vietnam, India, Haiti and Nepal to help doctors and patients in need.

“We’ve had a very good life and raised four children and an adopted daughter, so we’ve decided it’s time to give back,” said Shocket, 61, an emergency room physician at Kaiser Permanente Hospital in West Los Angeles.

While in West Africa, the couple renewed their wedding vows in the local Ghanaian custom. They have renewed their commitment to each other 14 times in a variety of ways.

“Each country has its own unique custom and culture, and one of the best ways of expressing that is in the wedding ceremony,” Shocket said. “We found that when we renew our vows in their customs, it honors their tradition and culture.”

Because entire families and sometimes complete villages are involved in the wedding ceremonies of many tribal cultures, the American couple have been adopted by indigenous families who then helped organize the rituals.

In Kenya they participated in a 24-hour Masai wedding ceremony.

That night, the Shockets spent their honeymoon in a lone hut in the middle of the Serengeti.

A cow and several chickens inside the small hut, along with the sound of farmers trying to scare elephants out of nearby cornfield, kept the couple awake for most of the night. The experience is one they will never forget.

Both Shocket and Justice- Shocket had been married once before. Between them they have four adult children, two sons and two daughters. The sons are completing their medical residencies.

Six years ago the Shockets adopted a 13-year-old homeless girl as part of an at-risk mentorship program. The girl now attends USC and is an education advocate for foster children.

In addition to volunteering at hospitals and clinics in Tijuana next year, Shocket and Justice-Shocket hope to join Project Hope on a Navy hospital ship in the South Pacific in September to help patients on remote islands.

Matt Peterson, senior manager of volunteer operations for Project Hope, said the Shockets are dedicated to improving the quality of emergency care throughout the world.

“Neil and Lori have been tremendously valuable to Project Hope’s efforts in Ghana this year,” Peterson said. He added that his organization looks forward to their future contributions.

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