Local doctors are heading to Cuba to provide free orthopedic surgical care for patients with debilitating bone and joint conditions. It's all part of "Operation Walk Albany."
Operation Walk is a volunteer, non-profit humanitarian organization that provides free joint replacements and medical training to countries that need it most.
The first wave of Operation Walk Albany team members, led by Dr. Jared Roberts, a fellowship-trained total joint surgeon with The Bone & Joint Center in Albany, were set to fly out of Albany International Airport Monday morning. They spent the past six months raising $150,000 to cover surgical supplies, airfare, lodging, and meals.
Jonathan Gainor is an orthopedic surgeon at OrthoNY practicing in Saratoga Springs. "What we're doing is, taking all of the people and equipment and supplies we need to Cuba in order to do hip and knee replacements for people in Cuba. And then you can go to any country, we go to different areas in different years to do hip and knee replacements. “
Gainor says although medical tourism exists, most Cubans do not have access to joint replacement procedures. "Patients in these countries with arthritis don't have the access that we do here in the United States to arthritic care. They may have some medicines, they may get some crutches or walkers, but they don't have as much of a surgical option like we do here. Hip and knee replacement being very successful for treating end-stage arthritis. So we bring all of our staff and supplies and all of our help and we're given room in the hospital, some beds for patients, as well as access to the O.R.'s for a short period of time, usually about three days, to get as many hip and knee replacements done for patients as we can."
The Albany team will be in Havana through November 13th. Dr. Erin Napoleone is a physical therapist based in Troy. "Our physical therapy practice Choice PT asked of our patients for old assistive devices, with walkers, crutches, canes, and we were able to gather over 70 different devices, and they along with 7,000 other pounds of cargo, have already been shipped down to Cuba. So I guess we're just really excited to be able to work with some of the best team around the Capital District. There's 47 of us who are going down from Albany Med, Saratoga Hospital the Bone & Joint Center, and to be able to give these life-changing surgeries to these Cuban nationals."
Napoleone says the team expects to perform 65 hip and knee replacements, as well as train in-country orthopedic healthcare professionals on the latest surgical techniques.
Megan Cody is an Albany-based physician assistant who has been on several "Operation Walk" missions. "We go in the first day. We screen about a hundred patients, figure out who is suitable for surgery, and then we make a surgery schedule, and we start operating that day actually, and we operate over three and a half days. We try and get about 60 joints replaced in those three and a half days of surgery. We're going to run out of four operating rooms. There's eight surgeons going with us.”
Operation Walk officials say the organization has 18 teams nationwide, which have served 10,000 patients across 25 countries since its founding in 1996.