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Group of Denver doctors travels abroad to perform free surgeries

Posted: 10:37 AM, Mar 09, 2019
Updated: 2019-03-10 00:58:28Z
Operation Walk Denver

DENVER -- A group of orthopedic doctors from Porter Adventist Hospital are donating their time and resources to helping arthritis patients in third-world countries.

It’s all part of Operation Walk Denver, a nonprofit group that travels to Latin America twice a year to perform free surgeries. Next month, the group will travel to Honduras to help patients there.

Each trip is a massive undertaking; some 60 staff members, including surgeons, anesthesiologists and nurses, all travel abroad to help make the surgeries possible for people without insurance. Eight tons of cargo are also shipped internationally each trip.

“We’re able to bring different nonsurgical and surgical options to these patients who have never seen a doctor before, who have never had any type of treatment, never had any medications and don’t have the money (to afford surgeries) even if they did have those resources available to them,” said Dr. Jim Boyle, the medical coordinator for Operation Walk Denver. “We’re able to hopefully change their lives for the better.”

Each trip costs around $130,000, not including all of the donated implants and medications. Many of the monetary donations come from former patients of Porter Adventist Hospital.

Along with performing dozens of free surgeries, the group also trains doctors in the country so that they can conduct these operations on their own. “One of the goals for the group is to bring $50,000 worth of implants to leave for the country’s surgeons so they can continue OpWalk’s work even after the group leaves."

“This is kind of my way of giving back,” said Dr. Douglas Dennis, an orthopedic surgeon and the executive director for Operation Walk Denver.

Along with their international work, Operation Walk also hosts free surgeries in the United States every December. However, the mission of the group is to treat patients without any form of insurance, which is rare in the U.S. under the Affordable Care Act.

Beyond that, certain federal laws make these types of free surgeries difficult to get approval for in the United States. So, more often than not, the group focuses its attention abroad.

On a recent trip to Panama City, however, doctors encountered one case that was so severe they decided they needed to fly the patient to Denver to be treated.

“This is not a routine knee replacement, it’s very complex,” Dr. Dennis said. “The longer he goes with this, it’s just going to get worse and worse and it’s bad for him but it’s also bad for us.”

The patient, Alfonso, already had one of his knees replaced in 2005. Now, his left knee is so bad it’s causing his leg to bow.

Doctors are hoping that the surgery will allow Alfonso to walk without pain once again.

But for as much as Operation Walk Denver puts into these missions, the doctors say they receive a lot in return.

“I have learned so much on my international Operation Walk trips on how to tackle cases like this. I always told my Denver patients that my Operation Walk experience has made me a better surgeon for you in Denver because we just don’t get to do cases like this,” said Dr. Dennis. “I actually, over the years, have changed my surgical technique based on what I have learned from tackling knees like this.”