LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Next weekend, a small group of doctors will perform a marathon day of surgery at a Little Rock hospital, replacing hips and knees for more than two dozen patients who have no insurance and can't afford the procedures.
Everything and everyone involved in the process — from the surgeons and nurses to the artificial joints — comes free of cost to the patients, many of whom have been suffering from debilitating pain for decades.
The free surgeries are made possible by Operation Walk USA, an organization that formed in 2011 after the success of Operation Walk, which provided free surgeries internationally. Operation Walk USA has provided nearly 300 patients in the United States with joint replacements during special events in 2011 and 2012.
"There's tremendous joy and gratification in taking care of patients with severe disease," said Dr. Adolph V. Lombardi, an orthopedic surgeon in New Albany, Ohio, who is also president of Operation Walk USA. "There's just been an overwhelming joy of taking care of these patients who would have never had the opportunity to have this operation."
This year, more than 230 patients will receive free hip and knee replacements surgeries at 70 participating hospitals nationwide from Dec. 2 to Dec 7. More than 130 orthopedic surgeons have volunteered their time to provide the services for the patients, who don't have insurance and aren't eligible for government assistance, Lombardi said. Medical manufacturers donate supplies for the surgeries, hospitals provide operating rooms and everyone involved volunteers their time.
Twenty-six of those surgeries will happen at Little Rock's St. Vincent Infirmary Medical Center on Dec. 7. Dr. Lowry Barnes, a surgeon at St. Vincent Orthopaedic Institute, is among the medical professionals performing the surgeries.
"These patients all have severe pain and loss of function with weight-bearing activity, so it makes it difficult for them to hold a job because they can't walk very well," Barnes said. "This is an operation that relieves their pain and gets them back to a more normal life.
"Many of the patients that we've taken care of in the last two years are now back in the workforce and now have their own health insurance."
Kent Matthews, 50, will be one of the beneficiaries of Operation Walk USA's program. In 1990, when Matthews was 27, he was a passenger in a car that was involved in a head-on collision. His left knee hit the dashboard and forced his hip through the socket. Since then, Matthews has suffered from debilitating pain with his left leg now shorter than the right.
Matthews, who is uninsured, grows rice and soybeans on his farm in Smithville. He said his injury can make the job more difficult.
"I just can't walk the way I should be able to," he said. "And we grow a lot of rice and there's a lot of walking involved when we're watering rice."
He learned of the Operation Walk program through his niece, who's a nurse. He said he's hopeful the surgery will make a world of difference.
"Hopefully (I) won't be in any more pain, and be able to walk without the limp and stand up without having to prop myself up," Matthews said.
Operation Walk USA's Lombardi said arthritis affects 48 million Americans and can make everyday activities painful if not impossible. Hip and knee replacements are the most cost-effective and successful procedures to ease the pain and allow patients to resume active lifestyles, the organization said.
"Part of what I love what I do is when the patient comes back a year or two years later and says, 'Thanks Doc, you gave me a new lease on life,'" Lombardi said.
Operation Walk USA: http://www.opwalkusa.com/