Dr. Dorr wins Humanitarian Award at American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons
Lawrence D. Dorr, MD, receives 2005 Humanitarian Award
By Carolyn Rogers
From AAOS ACADEMY NEWS
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.
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
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
"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
"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
"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
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