For five years following a traumatic injury, 20-year-old Abel Rodriguez, of the Dominican Republic, experienced excruciating pain in both of his hips, forcing him to walk hunched over with crutches. Xiomara Concepcion, a 34-year-old woman suffering from rheumatoid arthritis and bilateral knee pain since adolescence, required a wheelchair to get around.
Rodriguez and Concepcion are among 39 patients whose lives were transformed last month when they received joint replacements, thanks to Operation Walk Boston.
For one week in March, a team of more than 50 volunteers, including surgeons, anesthesiologists, nurses, physical therapists and operating room staff traveled to the Hospital General de La Plaza de la Salud in Santa Domingo for Operation Walk Boston’s eighth mission. The BWH-led team performed 56 knee and hip replacements. Additionally, 58 volunteer medical students from the Dominican Republic cared for patients as part of the team’s goal of educating the next generation of health care professionals in the country.
“Never in my nursing career have I witnessed patients with a greater appreciation for life and understanding of the importance of faith, family and diligence in accomplishing goals,” said Christina Foley, RN, an Operation Walk volunteer and staff nurse on Tower 12A. “They are nothing short of incredible and remind me of why I chose to become a nurse.”
Since 2007, under the leadership of BWH Chair of Orthopedic Surgery Thomas S. Thornhill, MD, Operation Walk Boston has been performing knee and hip replacements free of charge for patients suffering from arthritis and joint disease. To date, the team has helped more than 300 patients in the Dominican Republic.
BWH’s Roya Ghazinouri, PT, DPT, MS, chief operating officer for the team and strategic program manager for the BWH Center for Healthcare Delivery Science—a new research center focused on care delivery—said one of the highlights from the trip was seeing patients test out their new hip and knee replacements. The theme of this year’s mission was “Ve por el Oro,” or “Go for the Gold,” and several patients received gold medals by completing physical therapy tasks, such as walking up and down stairs just days after surgery. Some patients made rapid progress and were even able to climb the stairs on the day of their surgery.
“Although our patients face severe disabilities, they are always so motivated and grateful from the moment we arrive,” Ghazinouri said. “It’s amazing to know that our team is able to make such an impact on so many lives.”
This year’s team also held clinics for patients who received joint replacements in previous years.
Jeffrey Katz, MD, MSc, a BWH rheumatologist and director of research for Operation Walk Boston, has participated in seven missions with the team. He said it’s wonderful to connect with former patients and learn about what they’ve been able to accomplish post-surgery.
“The returning patients have regained so many dimensions of their lives that they had lost,” he said. “They are working, dancing, playing with grandchildren, walking on the beach, playing sports and much more. They are incredibly grateful for their newfound mobility.”