After traveling all over the world on missions to help people walk again, a Colorado surgical team stayed home this time to donate free hip and knee replacements to nine people in Colorado.
Mary Arnold, a 52-year-old Englewood woman, was barely moving with the help of a cane when she found out that the team from Operation Walk – Denver would give her a free hip replacement.
“I realized about four years ago that I probably would need a hip replacement,” she said. “As the years went on, I got worse and worse. The last four months, it’s been excruciating pain.
“I thought to myself, what’s going to happen to me if I cannot get surgery? I imagined myself just falling one day, breaking my hip and then I’d have to be in a wheelchair the rest of my life, because without insurance, I didn’t think anybody would probably touch me.
“When I got the call from the mission,” Arnold continued, “and they said it would be absolutely free, I literally started crying. I’m pretty blessed.”
When Arnold first learned she might need the surgery, she had a well-paying job and health insurance, and figured she was covered. Then came the recession.
She was laid off, ran through her savings, and finally started collecting scrap metal to recycle. She could not afford health insurance. When her hip degeneration reached the point where she could only walk with a cane, hauling refrigerators for a living proved impossible.
Just a few weeks after her free surgery, she’s pain-free. “I’m ready to jump up and down,” she said. But doctors told her to take it easy and let herself heal first.
The volunteer surgical team, part of Operation Walk America, typically travels to countries like Panama and Guatemala to provide the life-changing surgeries that allow patients to walk again. While there, they demonstrate the techniques to local surgeons. But this year they decided to help their neighbors.
In Colorado, with $200,000 in equipment and services donated – including the artificial joints themselves – the team asked patients to cover post-surgery prescriptions that cost about $30. “Some of our patients are struggling even to be able to do that,” said Dr. Dennis Douglas, one of the surgeons.
The team provided 10 new hips and knees to nine patients at Porter Hospital in Denver this month and hopes to offer the free surgery again in 2012, Douglas said.
“We’ll let people throughout the state of Colorado know that this program exists and give them some hope that they do have a chance to walk again,” Douglas said.
“Operation Walk Denver” can be reached at opwalkdenver.org.
Meanwhile, people in need of significant surgery who can afford insurance can now purchase coverage despite pre-existing conditions through gettinguscovered.org, a program of the state of Colorado. It is funded by the much-disputed federal health care law, which will be reviewed by the U.S. Supreme Court next year and could be overturned.