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Dr. Dorr wins Humanitarian Award at American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons

Lawrence D. Dorr, MD, receives 2005 Humanitarian Award
By Carolyn Rogers
Friday, February 25, 2005

In recognition of the positive impact his efforts have had on the lives and musculoskeletal health of so many people, Lawrence D. Dorr, MD, received the Academy's sixth annual Humanitarian Award yesterday. The award honors AAOS fellows who have distinguished themselves through outstanding musculoskeletal-related humanitarian activities in the United States or abroad.

Miracle workers

To hundreds of impoverished and uninsured people around the world who suffer from arthritis and other debilitating conditions, Dr. Dorr and his colleagues are nothing less than miracle-workers.

From the Nicaraguan woman whose leg was crushed during an earthquake, to an elderly woman in Nepal so crippled by arthritis she could barely get out of bed, Dr. Dorr's charitable work has brought the gift of mobility and relief from pain to disadvantaged people as far away as China, Cuba and the Philippines, and as close to home as Los Angeles.

"You look into the eyes of these people and it's like a miracle dropped out of the sky for them," said Dr. Dorr, a renowned joint replacement surgeon and founder of the not-for-profit volunteer organization "Operation Walk." As Humanitarian of the Year, Dr. Dorr also received a $5,000 donation to support his work.

Creating "Operation Walk"

Dr. Dorr's humanitarian efforts date back to 1994, when he and his medical team were invited to a hospital in St. Petersburg, Russia, to discuss some of the latest techniques in joint replacements and to operate on six patients. Upon returning to the United States, Dr. Dorr felt a deep desire to repeat the experience on a larger scale, in countries where the needs would be even greater.

"I realized there were so many doctors who needed the education and patients who needed the operations," he said. He enlisted a team of volunteers, solicited donations of medical equipment, and ultimately established "Operation Walk" as a private, not-for-profit, volunteer medical services organization. Operation Walk's primary mission is to provide free total hip and knee replacements for patients in developing countries, and in the United States, who would otherwise not have access to the life-improving operations.

In addition, Operation Walk provides education for local physicians, therapists and nurses on the most advanced treatments and surgical techniques for diseases of the hip and knee joints.

Bringing hope to Cuba

The humanitarian group's first mission was to Cuba. The team of 28 volunteers performed nearly 50 joint replacements and trained physicians, nurses and physical therapists in joint replacement techniques.

Since that first trip, Operation Walk has treated more then 400 patients in eight countries-including Guatemala, Nepal, Peru, the Philippines, China and Nicaragua. All services are provided at no cost to the patients-including the preoperative care, the surgery with implants, postoperative medications and therapy.

"In third-world countries where economic situations are dire, the disabled become the discarded," said Dr. Dorr. "Our goal is to help these people regain their ability to live as productive members of society."

Man on a mission

"Dr. Dorr has helped restore function to hundreds, if not thousands, of patients with crippling arthritis," said John J. Callaghan, MD, the Lawrence & Marilyn Dorr Chair in Hip Reconstruction and Research at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics in Iowa City. "Much of his free time during the year is spent trying to find support-both financial and volunteer-for this project."

Each mission requires 38 to 40 volunteers, including orthopaedic surgeons, anesthesiologists, internists, physical therapists, nurses, surgical technicians, central supply people, electricians and nursing support staff-all of whom donate their time. Lodging, food, implants, tools, medicines, dressings, gowns, other medical supplies, patient hospitalization expenses and cargo shipping costs average about $200,000 per mission.

Initially, the project was financed entirely by Dr. Dorr, and any funds he raised. Today, all of the materials used are either donated by orthopaedic companies or purchased by funds raised for Operation Walk, which was incorporated as a 501(c)(3) organization in 2001. The group holds an annual fundraising event and receives financial support from several donors, including the Skirball Foundation.

On each mission, the doctors perform about 40 knee or hip replacements. Operation Walk surgeons always operate alongside a local surgeon, and they install a television camera, monitor and microphone so that local physicians can watch and ask questions as the operation is taking place. These conferences are open to all local doctors and those from surrounding countries.

In addition to the trips abroad, the organization has undertaken domestic missions in Southern California on four occasions. In these one-day "surgery marathons," the medical team performs between 12 and 15 knee and hip replacements. Patients selected for these missions have no insurance and no financial ability to pay for the operation.

A legacy of giving

Almost every physician or health care worker who has taken part in one of the Operation Walk missions describes it as the biggest thrill they've had in medicine.

"Everyone who participates in this program benefits from the learning, teaching, sharing and caring that has been developed by Dr. Dorr," said Merrill A. Ritter, MD, professor of orthopaedics at Indiana University in Bloomington, Ind. "The staff of Operation Walk has developed an undying love and loyalty for him…This can only be reflected in the lives of those who come to work, and those who come for his help."

Inspired by Dr. Dorr's example, Operation Walk has expanded to include a team in Indiana, headed by Dr. Ritter; a Denver team directed by Douglas A. Dennis, MD; a Houston team under Brian S. Parsley, MD; and a Florida team with Carlos J. Lavernia, MD, and Kenneth A. Gustke, MD.

For more information about Operation Walk, visit the organization's Web site at

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