I recently volunteered to go to Hanoi, Vietnam with the non-profit medical service organization, Operation Walk. This was the first trip I took with this organization; I was the only doctor from Tucson Orthopaedic Institute and I did not know anyone from the team beforehand. I simply contacted their group in Los Angeles and asked to become a part of this trip. Operation Walk was founded in 1994 by Dr. Larry Doerr to provide people in developing countries with surgical treatments for disabling arthritis and other debilitating bone and joint conditions. Dr. Doerr’s efforts have brought over 3,000 joints to underserved countries over the past 15 years.
I travelled with 50 team members that consisted of six orthopaedic surgeons and four anesthesiologists, as well as scrub techs, physician assistants, nurses, physical therapists, and other volunteers. To get there, the physicians paid their own travel expenses, while the rest of the group was supported by contributions and donations made to Operation Walk.
In three-and-a-half days, the group screened countless candidates and selected patients based on the complexity of their condition given the limited supplies and options. Using donated implants from Zimmer, 52 joint replacement surgeries were performed. The other team members and I also provided education to the local physicians who will help care for the patients after we are gone.
The experience was amazing and I will do it again either next year or the following year, and for years to come, as long as they will have me!
By Russell Cohen, MD