Each December, orthopaedic surgeons across the United States participate in a unique humanitarian effort. As part of Operation Walk USA, they literally “give” patients the gift of mobility through free joint replacement surgeries. The event has become an annual tradition and represents some of the best humanitarian efforts of the orthopaedic profession.
Now in its fifth year, Operation Walk USA provides free knee and hip replacements for patients who may not qualify for government health coverage, have no insurance, or cannot afford surgery on their own. In 2014, an estimated 120 patients received free joint replacements from 85 volunteer orthopaedic surgeons at 36 hospitals in 23 states.
“There is no better gift than eliminating someone’s pain and providing them with the opportunity to regain their mobility, productivity, dignity, and quality of life,” said Adolph V. Lombardi Jr, MD, president of Operation Walk USA. “We are so appreciative of the many medical volunteers, donors, and supporters, as well as our patients and their families, who allowed us to continue our efforts.”
The annual Operation Walk USA program is held during the first week of December to ensure greater hospital, surgeon and medical staff participation. Operation Walk USA provides all aspects of treatment—surgery, hospitalization, and pre- and postoperative care.
Patient testimonials speak for themselves.
David Chalker, 50, an Army veteran and machinist for more than 35 years had a family history of osteoarthritis. Three years ago, the pain was so intense he had to start working for himself at home. He could no longer enjoy the travel or physical labor required as a machinist nor could he stand on his feet all day. He and his wife of 30 years, Lisa, thought he would be wheelchair-bound until they heard about Operation Walk USA.
David was hesitant but Lisa insisted they apply. “I didn’t want to live my life wondering ‘what if?’” said Lisa. David qualified and had double hip replacement surgery from Matthew Stewart Hepinstall, MD, at Franklin Hospital on Long Island, N.Y., in December 2014.
“I can’t wait to get back to work and experience all the activities and quality of life I used to enjoy,” said David. “This is better than winning the lottery,” added Lisa. “It is the best gift we could ever receive.”
“David and Lisa are a real team,” said Dr. Hepinstall. “It has been so rewarding to have met them before surgery and watch their dual approach to getting David back on his feet and back into life. David used to travel the country and train employees to make the orthopaedic devices that now benefit him. I know he feels like he’s getting something back and I am glad to be able to contribute to that.”
Susan Murray, 53, of Freehold, N.J., had a successful double knee replacement in December 2013 at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City under the care of Giles R. Scuderi, MD, an Operation Walk USA executive committee member. Her daughter applied to the program for her, and without her knowledge, so Susan’s replacement was truly a family effort.
“Since my surgery, I have experienced a new freedom,” said Susan. “I now work at Princeton University and can keep up with the students. I ride my bike. I danced at my daughter’s engagement party in February 2014 just months after surgery and again at her wedding in January of this year. My life is back on track in all wonderful ways. Operation Walk USA has given me a new lease on life and I continue to seize every chance I get to make it better.”
“It is so exciting to see the progress Susan has made and continues to make,” added Dr. Scuderi. “She sat in my office just over a year ago with limited mobility. Her spirit was still strong and her optimism intact. She continues to amaze me with all she is able to now accomplish.”
Janet Sitzmann said she has stepped into a whole new life. The massage therapist was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis and received a bilateral knee replacement from Jeffrey W. Salin, DO, at Kansas City (Kansas) Bone & Joint, a division of Signature Medical Group, in December 2012. She enjoys being a grandmother to her 2-year-old grandson and her life is thriving.
“My business is growing, my energy has increased and I am happy all the time,” said Janet. “I’m now completely reinventing myself and have become an entrepreneur teaching people how to feel good in their bodies. My goal is to continuously better my life and to enhance as many people’s lives as I can along the way.”
“Janet continues to make a difference in the mental and physical well-being of the clients she works with,” said Dr. Salin. “Her determination to have surgery, persevere through rehabilitation, and now work with others in the wellness arena just proves that her own orthopaedic health keeps getting better and with that her complete quality of life.”
Arthritic disease remains the most common cause of disability in the United States, affecting approximately 46 million Americans, or more than 21 percent of the adult population. The debilitating pain of end-stage hip or knee degenerative disease often makes working or completing even the simplest of daily tasks excruciatingly painful or impossible. Joint replacements are among the most successful orthopaedic procedures in addressing this problem and enabling individuals to return to the activities they enjoy.
Operation Walk USA began in 2010, following the tremendous success of Operation Walk international missions. To date, more than 6,500 patients have received new knees and hips through the international Operation Walk programs, and more than 600 U.S. patients have been treated through Operation Walk USA. The knee and hip replacement surgeries and related care delivered through Operation Walk USA have been valued at an estimated $16 million.
Implant device manufacturers Biomet, DePuy, Smith & Nephew, Stryker, Total Joint Orthopedics, Inc., and Zimmer donate the hip and knee implants for Operation Walk USA patients; other in-kind product and services donations come from SunMedica, Inc., Quill Medical, Inc., Ortech Data, Inc., and the American Joint Replacement Registry (AJRR), a national center for data collection and research on total hip and knee replacements.
“Each patient has a story that continues to inspire all of us,” said Dr. Lombardi. “As orthopaedic surgeons and participants in Operation Walk USA, we can literally help them take their very next step.”
Robin Waxenburg is a consulting writer for Operation Walk USA.