Until recently, recognizing the countless charitable acts—in particular, the free surgeries—performed by orthopaedic surgeons each year was a hit-and-miss affair. If a television or newspaper reporter heard about a special case, he or she could build a story around it. But all too often, such “good news” was overshadowed by reports of increasing healthcare costs, waste in the healthcare system, or medical errors.
That started to change in 2011 when Operation Walk USA chose one weekend in December and recruited surgeons and hospitals from around the country, enlisting their support for performing free joint replacement surgeries on those days. The effort was endorsed by The Hip Society, The Knee Society, and the American Association of Hip and Knee Surgeons.
It was the first time such a coordinated event had ever taken place; 65 surgeons in 13 states performed joint replacement surgeries on 85 patients. The overwhelming success of the event left no doubt that the effort would be repeated in 2012.
Helping and healing
Operation Walk (International) was started in 1995 to bring relief to people around the world who could neither access nor afford life-altering joint replacement surgery. Since then, more than 6,000 patients worldwide have been helped.
Although more than 1 million hip and knee replacements are performed in the United States each year, thousands of men and women continue to live with severe arthritic pain and immobility because they cannot afford joint replacement surgery. So, in late 2010, the need for an “Operation Walk USA” was identified.
“Regardless of circumstances, people in need should have relief from debilitating joint conditions and receive a new lease on life,” said Adolph V. Lombardi Jr, MD, FACS. “This is the essence of Operation Walk USA.” The nonprofit organization has as its mission “to encourage and enable joint replacement surgeons to provide mobility and improve quality of life of uninsured patients in the United States suffering from disabling arthritis of the hip or knee.”
Second time around
In 2012, the focus was on one day, Friday, Dec. 7. More than 100 orthopaedic surgeons in 29 states performed joint replacement surgeries on more than 200 patients. The increased number of orthopaedic surgeons and medical staff who volunteered “is really a testament to what a rewarding program this is and what it does for everyone involved,” said Lawrence D. Dorr, MD, the founder of Operation Walk (International) and an Operation Walk USA participant.
“This is one of the reasons we go into medicine—to help people,” agreed Derek R. Johnson, MD. Participating in Operation Walk USA, he said, was “an easy decision.”
The concentrated effort made it easier to attract media attention; stories about participating hospitals, surgeons, and patients could be seen and heard across the country. (See the end of this article for links to some of these reports.) Patient and surgeon stories also turned up on the AAOS “A Nation in Motion” website.
A complimentary data system to capture basic patient information was offered by Ortech Data, Inc. The American Joint Replacement Registry will store the collected data, enabling Operation Walk USA to start building a history and track patients who received treatment through the program.
The general guidelines helped both patients and participating centers streamline the application and decision process. A volunteer workgroup is currently developing new, expanded guidelines for 2013. Also being developed is a webinar for interested hospitals that will help them better understand the program, its requirements, and its benefits and assist in the decision-making process.
Bigger and better plans
The goal for 2013 is 500 procedures. While keeping the focus on a nationwide event, the window of opportunity has been expanded to the entire first week of December (Dec. 2–7, 2013), enabling patients to have their surgeries and be home—and walking without pain—by the holidays.
Despite the “individual mandate” and expanded coverage provided under the Affordable Care Act, millions of Americans will remain uninsured. “Operation Walk USA hopes to bring this amazing operation to people who can’t afford it,” said Ali R. Oliashirazi, MD, who participated in the 2012 effort.
Now recognized as a 501(c)(3) organization, Operation Walk USA is governed by an executive committee that includes Drs. Dorr and Lombardi as well as Douglas A. Dennis, MD; Carlos J. Lavernia, MD; Chitranjan S. Ranawat, MD; and Giles R. Scuderi, MD. For more information, visit www.opwalkusa.com or email email@example.com
Olga Foley is the society manager for The Hip Society, The Knee Society, and Operation Walk USA.
Operation Walk USA received support from the following companies:
- Biomet, Inc.
- DePuy, a Johnson & Johnson Company
- DJO, Inc.
- Exactech, Inc.
- MAKO Surgical Corp.
- Ortech Data, Inc.
- Smith & Nephew
- Total Joint Orthopedics, Inc.