Operation Walk: Restoring Mobility to Residents of El Salvador

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Joint and mobility problems aren’t confined to select countries, but unfortunately, access to state-of-the-art joint replacement surgery can be. 

To help alleviate joint pain and improve the quality of life for residents of El Salvador who are impacted by immobility, Joint Replacement Center of Scottsdale surgeon Dr. Shane Martin and a team of volunteers recently participated in a mission trip offering free joint replacement surgical care to local communities.

The mission trip, which was organized by Operation Walk Utah, took place Sept. 16-22, 2022. Its accomplishments included:

  • Joint screenings for 67 patients
  • 56 no-cost hip and knee replacement surgeries 
  • A team of 49 volunteers

The Mission

Operation Walk is a nonprofit volunteer medical service organization that focuses on two priorities:

  1. Providing free joint and hip replacement surgeries to those in need in developing countries and in the U.S. 
  2. Educating local orthopedic surgeons and other health care professionals about the latest technology and techniques available to provide the best quality care to patients.

Operation Walk international has performed no-cost knee and hip replacement surgical care for more than 17,000 people in 25 countries in the last 21 years, allowing them to get back to work and the activities they enjoy. It’s estimated that each week-long mission trip requires roughly 50 volunteer medical professionals, whose time alone is valued at about $500,000. The organization has successfully completed over 100 missions.

“These mission trips are especially important because they focus on populations of people who are 60 years or older,” said Dr. Martin. “When older people suffer from joint-related conditions, it can negatively impact their ability to work and provide for their family and village due to their inability to walk. Entire families suffer when the sole provider is disabled.”

Each Operation Walk international mission operates on a total of 50-60 patients. A local orthopedic doctor identifies potential candidates and sends X-rays for review by doctors in the U.S. to help select the best candidates.

Restoring Mobility Using Advanced Knee and Hip Replacement Technology

Dr. Martin’s drive for participating in the Operation Walk El Salvador trip stemmed from his passion for teaching and providing compassionate care. He regularly volunteers his time and skills to help those who are uninsured regain their mobility.

Aside from receiving free joint replacement surgical care, the beneficiaries of the mission trip also received access to nationally recognized experts in joint replacement. This not only ensures access to advanced treatment for joint disease – it also means local participants received top-notch care with lasting outcomes.

During Operation Walk El Salvador, Dr. Martin and the team of volunteers provided patients with:

  • Free screenings
  • Free hip and joint replacement surgeries
  • Free follow-up care to ensure desired outcomes

In addition to the surgeries themselves, the following services were also provided at no charge:

  • Hospitalization
  • Post-operative care
  • All treatment expenses
  • Implants

Hip Replacements

Hip replacement surgeries were provided to those whose health conditions matched the requirements for surgical approval. Surgical care was provided to those who were considered most in need of surgery, which typically occurs when other treatment options have failed.

Hip replacement surgery helped relieve the following symptoms in Operation Walk’s El Salvador trip:

  • Chronic pain
  • Trouble with daily tasks
  • Limited range of motion
  • Arthritis discovered during patient screenings

Knee Replacements

The El Salvador team performed knee replacement surgeries for those who hadn’t benefited from using other methods to ease their knee pain. This surgery helps alleviate symptoms such as:

  • Osteoarthritis pain
  • Difficulty with daily activities
  • Swollen and/or deformed knees

Advanced Technology

The world of orthopedic surgery has grown substantially in the last few decades, offering patients a never-before-seen level of treatment. These technologies provide better precision and accuracy than traditional joint replacement surgery methods. Surgeries using the latest technology also tend to be less invasive, which allows patients to recover faster.

“It was an honor to contribute to a highly talented team of medical professionals and other orthopedic surgeons to provide high-quality, personalized care to patients in El Salvador,” said Dr. Martin. 

“The work of Operation Walk is changing lives with each surgery. Nothing is more rewarding than watching a patient walk out of the hospital following their treatment after spending sometimes years without mobility.”

How You Can Help

If you or a loved one has received or is considering hip or knee replacement surgery, you likely know how devastating living with the pain of joint-related disabilities can be on all aspects of a person’s health. 

Operation Walk’s missions like the recent trip to El Salvador rely on donations from a variety of sources. If you’d like to learn more about how you can make a difference by bringing hope to those with no access to quality health care, visit OperationWalkUtah.org/donate.