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Program keeps people on their feet
SOUTH BAY: Operation Walk ensures needy seniors get joint replacement surgeries.
Daily Breeze ( Torrance , CA )-December 2, 2011
Author: Samantha Troisi Staff Writer
Edition: TorranceSection: NEWSPage: 3A Record Number: TO-1202-A3-865-TN02_WALK-196.XML
Before Lorraine Maldonado's hip gave out, jogging around the block was no problem.
She always had been active and loved playing sports with her young granddaughter. She knew she needed hip replacement surgery, but when her husband lost his job and their medical insurance, she didn't know how it would be possible.
It got to the point where even walking around her neighborhood or completing simple household chores caused excruciating pain. Bending down to pick up a small pile of dirt after sweeping was difficult, and the pain at night constantly interrupted her sleep.
Then last year, Maldonado found Operation Walk at the Good Samaritan Hospital in Los Angeles . The charity performs free joint replacement surgeries for those with disabling arthritis or other debilitating bone and joint conditions.
"It gave me back my life," said Maldonado, a San Pedro resident who received her hip surgery from Operation Walk last year. "I remember when I couldn't walk, I would look outside and see an older person walking down the street. I would think to myself, 'Wow, such a simple thing walking is and yet I can't do it right now, but want to so bad."'
Operation Walk was founded more than 15 years ago by Dr. Lawrence Dorr, medical director of the Dorr Arthritis Institute at Good Samaritan Hospital, as an overseas nonprofit volunteer medical service organization.
It began with operations in Cuba and sent Dorr and his crew, Jeri Ward, director of the institute, and Mary Ellen Sieben, its coordinator, all across the world.
Nine years ago, Ward and Sieben looked to each other and decided that Operation Walk should be brought to the United States . Today, nearly 30 surgeons will perform 89 operations across 14 states, seven of them in Los Angeles .
"The thing about Operation Walk is it can be life-changing for a lot of people who can't afford the surgeries and feel like there's no hope," Sieben said. "After the surgery, we know they can go back and be a productive part of society here in our own community."
Sieben, from Torrance , and Ward, an El Segundo resident, both graduated from El Camino College. They say that having the power and ability to steer their colleagues in the right direction of performing charitable work for people in their own community is something they never dreamed possible.
"Our biggest goal is to take the pain away, and by doing that we're increasing mobility, which increases work and productivity," Ward said. "It's like a snowball that's rolling. Once you get rid of the pain, life takes off from there."
Patients are selected after sending in letters about their current conditions. They receive background and medical checks to ensure they qualify, and are normally 50 to 60 years old, Ward said.
Operation Walk tends to look for those who would be able to return to work if they received the surgery, but may be too young to qualify for Medicare. Many of the applicants have been through the county health system and have been on waiting lists for surgery for years, Ward said.
All aspects of the treatment and aftercare are donated, from X-rays to implants, as well as the time required from all involved. And Ward said treatment doesn't end with the surgery.
"Everyone donates. Even home health people go out and see patients for free afterward," Ward said. "Our patients come in for surgery and then they have home therapy for a couple weeks. We have them constantly come in for checkups. Once they're our patient, they'll always be our patient."
Maldonado said the aftercare work she was provided and the exercises she did were just as important to her recovery as the surgery itself. On rainy days, she said, she would drive to her local Home Depot, because of its spacious layout, to make sure she did enough walking for the day.
"It was amazing. The care they gave is just beyond a person's imagination," Maldonado said. "They really made me feel safe and it didn't even feel like it was charity. They never reminded you that it was free and, once you were brought under their wing, they cared for you throughout the whole process."
Though Sieben and Ward have traveled all around the world, they said seeing these surgeries performed in their own country is one of the best parts of Operation Walk.
"It's a different feeling here - you're giving back to your own community and own people," Ward said. "Not that other places aren't deserving and grateful, but people always ask of all the places I've been, which is my favorite. I always say America , I kind of like it here."
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