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Patients and staff give an enthusiastic thumbs up to Operation Walk Boston’s second annual mission to the Dominican Republic.
One man hadn’t walked in five years. Two patients were bed-ridden for more than a year because of debilitating joint disease. The day after surgery was performed by Operation Walk Boston, all three patients—and 37 more—got out of bed and took the emotional first steps of the rest of their lives.
“There was crying and cheering as patients began to walk again, and some even tried to dance down the hallways because they were so thrilled,” said Kerrie Ann McDonough, RN, of Tower 16AB, who was the charge nurse during Operation Walk Boston’s mission to the Dominican Republic last month.
The BWH-led team operated on 40 patients suffering from severely debilitating joint disease, replacing 55 knee and hip joints in just four days during the second mission to the Hospital General Plaza de la Salud in Santo Domingo.
“These patients have no other means of affording this surgery,” said Dr. Luis Alcantara, coordinating surgeon at Hospital General Plaza de la Salud for Operation Walk for 2008, 2009 and 2010, who recruits all of the patients for the mission and runs the hospital’s Arthroplasty and Minimally Invasive Surgery Unit. “It helps them regain their independence.”
Thomas S. Thornhill, MD, chief of Orthopedics at BWH, the founder of Operation Walk Boston, said this year’s trip was the team’s first independent mission. Last year, the group worked with Operation Walk Denver on its first mission to Santo Domingo and Panama the year before.
“Even though we were in a different country, different systems, a different language and without our IT support, we were still able to deliver the same quality of care that we deliver at BWH,” he said.
The patients had more advanced arthritis than is typical for patients seeking joint replacement in Boston. “Many patients had substantial joint deformity, limitation in range of motion and restriction in activities,” said Jeffrey Katz, MD director of the Orthopedic and Arthritis Center for Outcomes Research and mission volunteer. “Joint replacement generally isn’t available for poor people in the Dominican Republic, and these patients were immensely grateful to regain their lives.”
A testament to the quality of the team’s care came in the form of a visit from one of last year’s patients, a woman who had joints in both her knees replaced. This year, her sister was undergoing surgery. “They told us, both of them teary-eyed, how much this woman’s life has changed since she had surgery last year,” said Coleen Sabatini, MD, chief resident of Orthopedic Surgery at BWH and the medical coordinator for the mission. “She had been in so much pain and was depressed before surgery. Now, she is able to care for her family and has this amazing new outlook on life.”
This year’s team brought care providers from BWH together with colleagues from New England Baptist, Tufts and Mass. General. “A lot of us had never worked together before, but it was 100 percent teamwork and dedication from everyone,” McDonough noted.
The team partnered with staff at the Hospital General Plaza de la Salud, hosting surgery, nursing and physical therapy educational sessions for staff and ensuring that Dominican staff were able to round with doctors and nurses. “Education is a crucial part of making this a sustainable effort,” said Roya Ghazinouri, PT, DPT, MS, clinical supervisor of Inpatient Physical Therapy at BWH and the mission coordinator for Operation Walk Boston.
The orthopedic surgeons also held a large conference for orthopedic surgeons across the Dominican Republic, and the OR nurses provided an education session to help staff at the Hospital General Plaza de la Salud adopt the World Health Organization’s safety pause guidelines. “It’s what you leave behind in terms of teaching that will help this effort endure,” Thornhill said.
The team is thankful for the support of BWH, especially Pharmacy, Nursing, Environmental Services and Receiving. “We could not have done it without the support of BWH,” Thornhill said.
See more photos of Operation Walk.