For the thousands of Guatemalans with debilitating osteoarthritis whom they have treated, Jorge Guillermo Claverie, MD, and his colleagues are truly life-changers.
Approximately one million people in Guatemala have degenerative osteoarthritis, which eventually robs them of their ability to walk, according to Dr. Claverie, a specialist in hip and knee replacement and founder of The Guatemalan Foundation of Orthopedic Surgery (FUNDAORTO). Established in 1999, FUNDAORTO is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to make affordable total hip and knee replacements accessible to underprivileged Guatemalans.
“Joint replacement surgeries are rare in Guatemala—only 15 percent of the entire population has medical insurance, and few surgeons are trained in the techniques,” said Dr. Claverie. “The surgeries that we perform through FUNDAORTO enable patients to go from being handicapped to managing on their own and becoming productive members of society.”
Dr. Claverie’s humanitarian efforts date back to 1995, when he began setting time aside from his practice to perform pro bono hip and knee arthroplasties. To ensure that needy Guatemalans would always have access to these procedures, he and his wife Ligia established FUNDAORTO in 1999.
Word about the foundation and its work quickly spread throughout Guatemala and the world. Doctors from Costa Rica and Honduras traveled to Guatemala to observe FUNDAORTO surgeries and learn the techniques so they could apply them to patients in their own countries. In 2004, a team from Operation Walk Indiana collaborated with FUNDAORTO in Guatemala, performing 70 surgeries in 4 days. Operation Walk is a private, nonprofit, volunteer medical service that offers free orthopaedic surgery to impoverished patients in developing countries and in the United States. (For more on Operation Walk’s most recent initiative in the United States, see “’Working Poor’ Benefit from Outreach Effort.”)
“The outcome of that trip exceeded our expectations,” recalled Dr. Claverie. “Operation Walk has since returned to Guatemala on six occasions, and performs medical missions here every 2 years.”
Since FUNDAORTO’s inception, Dr. Claverie has performed joint replacement surgeries on more than 3,000 patients. He devotes one week a month, every month, to provide care to the needy. Other dedicated orthopaedic surgeons, including Miguel E. Cabanela, MD, have also volunteered with FUNDAORTO. In addition, Dr. Claverie has developed an education program to teach Guatemalan orthopaedic residents the skills and techniques required to perform hip and knee arthroplasties.
The success of FUNDAORTO, however, has increased demand for its services, says Dr. Claverie.
“It is important, therefore, to spread awareness of how important these surgeries are for people who suffer from osteoarthritis in poor countries such as Guatemala,” he said. “The disease disables otherwise capable adults, making them unproductive members of society and unable to provide for their family.”
For more information about FUNDAORTO, visit www.fundaorto.org
Maureen Leahy is assistant managing editor of AAOS Now. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org