Five patients receive free joint replacement surgery

Countless men and women like Janice Runner, of Bridgeport, West Virginia, endure severe arthritis pain and immobility because they can’t afford joint replacement surgery.

Runner felt both her knees deteriorating gradually over the last decade. The 63-year-old grandmother of three spent much of her time at her part-time job driving and walking and experienced pain so excruciating she feared she would not be able to continue to work.

“My dad had osteoarthritis really bad, and I always knew I'd end up with it. My grandsons are seven, 11, and 15. I can hardly go places with them because there’s too much walking and they have to stop and wait on me to sit down for a few minutes. It’s just gotten tougher to get around,” Runner said.

Runner was among five WVU Healthcare patients who underwent joint replacement surgery at no cost in December 2013 through a partnership between WVU surgeons and Operation Walk USA, an independent medical humanitarian organization that provides free hip or knee replacement surgeries to patients in the United States. Patients from Elkins, Martinsburg, Petroleum, and Salem, West Virginia, were among those receiving the charitable surgeries.

Runner was ecstatic. “It’s really a miracle in itself that this is happening,” she said. “I’m so excited, I can’t believe it. I love riding my bicycle. It will be so nice to be able to get back on my bike and ride.”

“Participating in Operation Walk is such a reaffirming experience for everyone involved. It reminds you of the difference you can make in someone’s life,” said WVU orthopaedic surgeon Matthew J. Dietz, MD. “And it truly is a team effort from our support on the financial/administration side, to the nurses on the floor, the scrub techs in the operating room, the pharmacists, physical therapists, and everyone who contributed.”

WVU orthopaedic surgeon Benjamin Frye, MD, spearheaded the effort to involve WVU School of Medicine faculty in Operation Walk USA. Along with Dr. Frye and Dr. Dietz, WVU orthopaedic surgeons Adam Klein, MD; Brock Lindsay, MD; Barry McDonough, MD; and David Waxman, MD, generously offered their care and surgical expertise to the Operation Walk USA patients.

Cynthia Drummond, RN, orthopaedic nurse clinician at WVU Healthcare’s Center for Joint Replacement, coordinated the day and worked with participating WVU Healthcare surgeons to help identify patients who would qualify for surgery through Operation Walk. Through the process, Drummond not only grew closer to her patients, but also to their families.

On surgery day, patients’ family members gathered in a hospitality area. Drummond and other Center for Joint Replacement staff assembled for their comfort. As tense loved ones awaited word from the doctors, they shared stories and bonded with others going through similar emotions.

“I’ve seen both of my Operation Walk patients and they continue to express overwhelming gratitude for giving them their life back. They’re back to work and enjoying their new hip and knee,” Dietz said. “This has been a great inaugural year for Operation Walk at the WVU School of Medicine and Ruby Memorial Hospital. I’m excited to participate again next year. I hope the excitement generated from this year’s experience allows the program to continue to grow and enable others to share in this fantastic endeavor.”

It wasn’t just the patients who got a renewed take on life. “I feel like this entire process made me realize why I became a nurse in the first place,” Drummond said.

Did you know...

  1. More than one million hip and knee replacements are performed in the United States each year.
  2. In 2013, six of WVU Healthcare's orthopaedic surgeons were among 130 surgeons donating their time and skills to the initiative, and Ruby Memorial Hospital was one of 70 participating United States hospitals.
  3. As the most common cause of disability in the United States, arthritis affects approximately 48 million Americans, or more than 21 percent of the adult population.
  4. To date, more than 6,000 patients have received new knees and hips through the international Operation Walk, and nearly 300 patients through Operation Walk USA 2011 and 2012.

To learn about the Center for Joint Replacement's Accelerated Recovery Program, check out this video.