Dr. Ritvik Mehta brings smiles to people’s faces, whether it’s because he is donating his time helping others or performing facial reanimation surgery on patients.
Based at the recently formed California Head and Neck Specialists, with offices at Scripps Memorial Hospital, La Jolla, and in Carlsbad, Mehta specializes in a number of clinical interest areas. These include hearing and balance disorders; implantable hearing devices/cochlear implants; lateral skull base surgery, including gamma knife radiosurgery; facial paralysis/facial reanimation surgery; and microtia and atresia surgery, which involves treating congenital conditions in which one or both external ears are underdeveloped or absent.
Dr. Mehta is also the medical director for ClaudiaO med spa in Carmel Valley. Claudia Obermann recently opened a medical spa in Del Mar Highlands Town Center called ClaudiaO. ClaudiaO is a laser and injectable specialist.
In addition, the Solana Beach resident donates his personal time and skills to two organizations: Medical Missions for Children, a nonprofit that provides free surgical, medical and dental care to underprivileged children and young adults all around the world; and the San Diego-based Fresh Start Surgical Gifts, which aids disadvantaged children and young people with physical deformities caused by birth defects, accidents, abuse or disease.
Mehta — who grew up in Kenya and went to high school in the Los Angeles area — discovered his passion for medicine during his postsecondary education.
“In college, I found that I was fascinated by the sciences and biology, and I excelled in it,” he said. “That, coupled with my desire to work with people, led me to become interested in pursuing medicine.”
After he earned his bachelor’s degree in psychobiology and neuroscience from USC in 1996, Mehta received his medical degree from the UCSD School of Medicine in 2000.
“I was really lucky to have had an amazing mentor,” he said. “When I was a medical student, I worked with a head and neck surgeon. When I was a first-year student, she took me into the operating room and taught me how to scrub in and the nuances of complex head and neck surgery. I was captivated.”
Fascinated by the different and complicated features within the face, he decided to specialize in otolaryngology/head and neck surgery.
Mehta went on to Harvard Medical School, where he completed his internship in general surgery and residency in otolaryngology (head and neck surgery) in 2006. While he was there, Mehta became interested in facial paralysis, and recognized the profound impact that it has on the lives of those affected.
“During my training (at Harvard), I ended up seeing a lot of patients with facial paralysis,” he said. “It really motivated me to take the extra time and learn more about restoring facial function and symmetry.”
Subsequently, Mehta elected to pursue advanced training in facial plastic and reconstructive surgery/facial nerve disorders during his fellowship at the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary/Harvard Medical School, which he completed in 2007.
Eventually, he returned to the UCSD School of Medicine and completed a second fellowship, in otology/neurotology and skull base surgery, in 2009. Mehta was then recruited by the Scripps Memorial Hospital in La Jolla to start his practice.
He became founder and medical director of the California Hearing & Balance Center/California Facial Nerve Center, and co-founder and facial plastic surgeon at BeautifySD, both in August 2009.
Currently, Mehta has hospital privileges at several facilities, including Scripps Memorial Hospital, La Jolla; Scripps Memorial Hospital, Encinitas; and Rady Children’s Hospital, San Diego. He has received nearly a dozen honors and awards, and is a professional member of several academies and societies. Furthermore, Mehta has co-written a number of publications, and travels nationally and internationally to give scientific presentations.
But Mehta doesn’t just travel for work. He also heads to different parts of the world — primarily Latin America — to treat congenital deformities as a part of Medical Missions for Children, an organization he has been involved with for about seven years. Each January, Mehta goes to Guatemala for seven to 10 days to treat patients with microtia.
Each patient goes through one stage of surgery during one of Mehta’s visits, with the average person requiring two to three stages before treatment is completed.
“It’s been incredibly successful and rewarding,” Mehta said.
“My interest in medical missions stems from my childhood. I grew up in Kenya (East Africa) and witnessed firsthand the poverty and need that exists in Third World countries. I vowed that I would someday find a way to give back. The medical missions and volunteer surgeries that I do are my way of contributing what I can to those who need it.”
One of his recent success stories is 16-year-old Edy Santiago of Guatemala, who was born with a congenital malformation of his right ear and right ear canal. Edy had lifelong ear infections that resulted in severe pain and vertigo, and he had complete hearing loss in that ear.
In the last year, Edy was seen by UCSD medical student Mimi Nguyen, who was volunteering in Guatemala with humanitarian outreach organization Voces y Manos. Nguyen forwarded Edy’s records for Mehta’s review through the Fresh Start Surgical Gifts program, which Mehta has been involved with for three years. In January, Edy traveled to Antigua to see Mehta for an evaluation. Because of the extent of Edy’s ear problem and the fact that his surgery would require highly specialized equipment such as high-speed drills, microscope and nerve monitoring, Mehta recommended that Edy be treated in the United States. With the assistance of Fresh Start, Edy obtained visas, airfare and a host family in San Diego.
On March 16, Mehta performed a four-and-a-half-hour surgery on Edy to remove the chronic infection and cholesteatoma in his malformed ear canal and mastoid bone, and he is now pain-free for the first time in his life. Hearing aids were donated for Edy’s left ear, in which he had only partial hearing.
At press time, Edy was scheduled to have returned home, and Mehta plans to see him on his mission to Guatemala next January.
Meanwhile, Mehta is working on combining the California Hearing & Balance Center/California Facial Nerve Center and BeautifySD under the umbrella of the California Head and Neck Specialists, with a team of six physicians, doctors of audiology, and nurses. They attend national meetings to keep up with the latest medical and technological developments.
“The goal at California Head and Neck Specialists is to provide highly subspecialized care for people with any problems arising within the head and neck region,” Mehta said.
California Head and Neck Specialists is at 9834 Genessee Ave., Suite 111, in La Jolla; and at 6260 El Camino Real, Suite 105, in Carlsbad. For more information, call (858) 909-0770 or (858) 909-0500, or go to www.calhns.com, www.beautifysd.com, www.sdearcenter.com or www.californiafacialnerve.org.
By Kelley Carlson