Every year since completing his fellowship training in orthopaedic surgery, Dr. Brian Daines of the Sierra Vista Medical Group, packs a suitcase full of surgical scrubs and boards a plane bound for an Operation Walk medical mission in one of several Central American countries.
This year’s trip — April 10-16 — to Honduras saw him join a team of 60 volunteers, including surgeons, medical doctors, nurses, and physical therapists, among them Dr. Daines’ colleague, physician’s assistant Dean Marturello. The team completed more than 60 free joint-replacement surgeries on some of the region’s most in-need patients.
In Honduras, medical care is mostly reserved for the few who are wealthy enough to pay for it out of pocket. There is no safety net for the poor, and the patients that Operation Walk treat suffer from crippling arthritis most of their lives. Their names were on a list of more than 1,800 hopeful patients who wait to receive the life altering joint replacement surgery.
The first day of the trip, patients arose in the early hours, with severely limited mobility, traveling miles from remote regions to the city of San Pedro Sula — providing one of only two public hospitals which serve a population of 3.5 million. They waited patiently — hopefully — for a turn to be examined. As the day drew to a close, they crowded into a small waiting room, clinging to family members, clasping their hands in prayer, and awaiting the verdict. When one of the Operation Walk team members announced that no one in the room would have to go home, because the team would be able to complete surgeries on every one of the patients, a joyful cheer filled the room.
Over the next three days, surgical teams worked tirelessly to complete every needed surgery. Days started at 6 a.m. and ended late in the evening. Physical therapists and volunteers watched in awe as patients who hadn’t been mobile for 15 years or more, oftentimes provided only Tylenol for pain, stood up and walked around the crowded recovery room. Patients smiled, and laughed, and hugged every volunteer they came near, thanking them and asking God to bless them. A day after surgery, they walked out the front door of the hospital into a new life.
The Operation Walk trip(s) matter because they give people a new opportunity to take back their lives. Many of the Honduran patients have been unable to leave their homes for years. They are dependent on family members to care for them, and in many cases, literally carry them. Prior to surgery, there is little hope their situation will improve. When these patients get the opportunity to have surgery it allows them to have a new outlook on life. The gratitude, hope, and joy is contagious knowing full well a new lease on life, and ability to be productive members of society is right before them.
As much as the trips help the people of Honduras, they are just as life altering for every member of the volunteer medical team. The volunteers leave feeling fulfilled in their careers and inspired to practice a more pure form of medicine when they return home.
After volunteering 11 times for Operation Walk, among 13 medical missions overall, Dr. Daines believes these experiences are an essential part of his practice, both personally and professionally. His volunteering is a way to serve those less fortunate through a profession and skill he dreamed of having since he was 8 years old — a yearly reminder of why he became a surgeon in the first place.
Submitted by Carly Daines