Building on the success of Operation Walk, an international effort that has provided free joint replacement surgeries to patients around the world, three orthopaedic specialty societies—The Hip Society, The Knee Society, and the American Association of Hip and Knee Surgeons (AAHKS)—gave more than 85 patients an early holiday gift, the ability to walk without pain.
Starting after Thanksgiving and extending through the 2011 holiday season, more than 60 orthopaedic surgeons in 18 different states provided hip and knee joint replacements to patients at no cost. All aspects of treatment—preoperative care, surgery, hospitalization, and postoperative care—were covered. The implants were donated by major device manufacturers (Biomet, DePuy, Mako Surgical, Smith & Nephew, Stryker, Total Joint Orthopaedics, Wright Medical Technology, and Zimmer), and care was provided at more than 25 different hospitals. In addition to brand-new joints, many patients walked away with new shoes, donated by Nike. The AAOS provided administrative and media relations support for the effort.
“Rising healthcare costs and economic workforce issues in the United States can make it a struggle for some people to access medical care,” said Adolph Lombardi, MD, president of The Hip Society, who initiated the 2011 project. “This effort helped patients who were in pain, but out of options for care.”
Targeted patients were the “working poor,” individuals at or slightly above (up to 200 percent) of the poverty level who do not qualify for any government assistance programs. Patients were referred by federally qualified health centers, community health clinics, and primary care physicians. All patients had to meet financial guidelines and receive clinical clearance prior to the surgeries.
Patients ranged from a 70-year-old pastor in Arizona with osteoarthritis of the knee to a 32-year-old unemployed surfer in Florida with osteonecrosis of the hip. No matter what the original trigger, patients and their families and friends were universally grateful.
“My heart is full of gratitude and thankfulness,” wrote 62-year-old Ruby Smits, who underwent knee replacement surgery at St. Vincent Infirmary in Little Rock, Ark. “All the doctors, nurses, and staff who made this possible need to know how you changed my life. I will always be in awe that I was chosen.”
“To see a lifelong friend who has been very physically down for a few years and to now see the light in his eyes in anticipation of not being in dire pain and being able to enjoy life is priceless,” wrote a friend of another patient.
“I never thought I’d be having hip surgery at this age,” said Casey O’Donnell, the Florida surfer. “I’ve been dealing with the pain for about a year, and it’s been very debilitating—until now. This has kept me out of work, but I’m hoping that this will get me going in the right direction. I’m going to be back to normal, living a normal functioning life. I might not be able to surf like I used to, but at least I’ll be back in the water.”
“I have a new life, and I just feel so blessed,” said a grandmother who underwent knee replacement surgery at the Mount Carmel New Albany Surgical Hospital in New Albany, Ohio. “Last year, it was a struggle, but this year, I’m looking forward to the holidays.”
A rewarding experience
Patients weren’t the only ones who were moved by the experience. “Our hospital has never done anything quite like this, and the positive effects on team work and the understanding of our healing ministry are impressive,” said C. Lowry Barnes, MD, of St. Vincent Infirmary. “Our hospital is a different place because of this event. It has been a uniquely rewarding experience for all involved.”
Dr. Barnes noted that “from a doctor’s standpoint, it’s not just the orthopaedic surgeons. Anesthesiologists, internal medicine specialists, radiologists, nursing staff—everyone from the front desk to the follow-up care—is volunteering their time.”
Aaron A. Hofmann, MD, of Salt Lake Regional Medical Center in Salt Lake City, Utah, even got his mother to participate. She crocheted beanie hats for each of the patients. “As always, we received way more back than we gave,” he said.
A repeat performance
Although Operation Walk has been around since 1994, when Lawrence D. Dorr, MD, established the international venture, the Operation Walk USA 2011 was only the second coordinated venture in the United States. In 2010, orthopaedic surgeons in nine cities participated. In 2011, the number of cities more than doubled.
“This participation increase is really a testament to what a rewarding program this is, and what it does for everyone involved,” said Dr. Dorr.
For more information on Operation Walk USA, visit www.opwalkusa.com
Olga Foley is the society manager for The Hip Society and The Knee Society. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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