A group of 60 volunteers from western Pennsylvania, including 31 who work for UPMC, traveled to Antigua, Guatemala, earlier in September for Operation Walk Pittsburgh. An initiative of the AMD3 Foundation and Tony DiGioia, M.D., of the Bone and Joint Center at Magee-Womens Hospital of UPMC, Operation Walk Pittsburgh provides free hip and knee replacement surgeries in developing countries for patients who otherwise have little or no access to this life-changing care.
Each trip seems to come replete with a major obstacle, and this year’s was no different. Upon arrival in Guatemala, the group encountered significant custom delays that threatened to cancel the week’s procedures. Volunteers had to make a 14-hour, round-trip drive to coastal Puerto Barrios, Guatemala, to secure the proper approvals for, and the release of, the team’s medical equipment. Because one crew quickly unpacked the supplies overnight, the team was able to proceed without missing a beat – completing a screening clinic and the first day’s surgeries, as scheduled.
“The team is so special, it comes together in ways that amaze me each year,” said Dr. DiGioia, founder of Operation Walk Pittsburgh, which also donates hip and knee replacements to Pittsburgh-area patients each Thanksgiving.
In the sixth annual trip abroad by Operation Walk Pittsburgh, the group broke its previous record by performing 63 free joint-replacement surgeries on 53 grateful patients during their seven-day stay. There were 45 knee and 18 hip replacements among these native patients, who ranged in age from 29 to 82 years old.
One of the patients, Maritza, 32, had her fourth joint replacement and, in three years, has gone from being in a wheelchair to walking again. She told the medical team, “I want to say thank you for all of the people getting a hip replacement or knee replacement. . . it is really a blessing for us. I got rheumatoid arthritis when I was 11, so I have more than 20 years having it, (and) it has been very hard. The surgeries have changed my life. I am working, I am standing, I thought I was never going to be able to do that. Thank you for everything, for loving our country and helping our people.”
More information on the trip and volunteering is available at www.OperationWalkPGH.org.