Operation Walk: Freedom To Move

Operation Walk: Freedom To Move
Operation Walk: Freedom To Move

Every year, our very own, Dr. Duwelius and a dedicated team of orthopedic surgeons, anesthesiologists, scrub techs, surgical nurses, and many others volunteer come together to donate their time and expertise and travel to the Dominican Republic to perform hip and knee replacements on individuals who would otherwise never have the opportunity. In addition to performing these surgeries for free, the team teaches the local medial personnel new skills allowing them to provide even better care after the team has returned home. Check out what they’ve been upto on their Facebook PageFor more information on the the organization, check out Operation Walk – Freedom To Move.

As they wrapped up their mission this past weekend – Pat Williams, one of the many volunteers, sent us this note:

Wherever you are in the world tonight, I will attempt to whisk you away to the Dominican Republic and the ILAC mission where I currently am…

I am laying on my bunk at ILAC in Casita #5. A dog is barking somewhere nearby.  No matter how dim I make my iPad these tiny little flying things are dancing on my screen. I keep squishing them with my fingers and am having to periodically clean my screen. It’s really hot and humid, the air in my room is stifling. I am excited that our mission has been such a success, I am super excited to get home and see my wife Susan and kids whom I love and miss so much, my friends, my co-workers. I know the much needed Diet Coke and fries are only a few hours away. I am exhausted and feel like I have never worked harder in my life. I cannot take in enough fluids, my legs keep cramping. After just 4 hours of sleep last night, I am sleepy and ready to go to bed, it’s nearly 12am and I have a 4:20 alarm to get to the airport but I am determined to do this blog tonight, I hope you find them informative, enjoyable and helpful.  (I think I am pretty funny sometimes, and sometimes I even laugh out loud at my own jokes, is that weird? Did you compare that emoji to Giada’s smile?  I bet you did). I am tired of standing and am actually looking forward to the down time of flying from here to JFK, on to San Francisco, and finally landing in Portland around 7PM. Ordinarily a flight like this sounds awful, right now it sounds dreamy.  Our OWFTM team is saying its goodbyes, we are going our separate ways, our week of fury binding us together like nothing else can. I am sad to leave them, sad that a few of them I might never see again, strong friendships born through fire and challenge, solidified by enduring a mission one can barely put into words. I could never describe the days here filled with the wearisome press of never ending physical movement, or hours of standing during surgery, billions of problems thought through and overcome, some with ease , some with pain points, the loss of hydration because you can’t get to water frequently enough, eating strange foods, and sleeping fitfully at Hotel Rey because the streets are filled with people playing music so loud you’d swear they were in your room. Sounds pretty good huh?

An hour ago a few of us (thanks a million Paul and Larry) finally finished doing the last of our chores and with one final screech of my tape gun our Operation Walk Freedom to Move 2016 Mission Team finally put a fork in it. But let me tell you, despite everything I told you a few sentences ago about our discomfort, every one of us would do it all again tomorrow.

Team 2: Dr. Duwelius our president and fantastic surgeon who together with his guardian angel truly performed miracles this year and did some amazing cases, Dr. Graham, very quick witted and could put a spinal in a jelly fish (and often tries to), Vafa Talebi, surgical nurse extraordinaire, who is a good man and never gets stressed out, and Shannon Coupens who does it all, thank you for actually being the swing man and setting the tone for both teams.  I hope that back feels better soon.  This team performed over 15 hips this year!  Amazing!

Team 3: Dr. Vessely, who made it down here despite rupturing a ligament in his leg and having surgery of his own just a few short weeks ago and doing some very difficult cases.  Dr. Jansen who taught and learned so much all at the same time and is a great surgeon and human being, Dr Sawhney who was such a welcome sight every morning and really helped me through the day, hope the test went well!  Juan Rangle a nurse who truly CAN and DOES do it all and quickly helped us improve the care our patients received with his outside the box thinking.  Team three also performed in excess of 15 total hips!

Unbelievable numbers coming in just four days. Over 30 hips done and 30 people changed forever!  Team St. Louis added another 30 cases and yep folks, we did it, we blitzed the 60 mark!  Yesterday was a really long OR day, but Ruddy came through so we thought we should do our part.

Now, you may have thought that I mis-numbered my teams above by starting out with team 2. Not so, that was on purpose!  Team 1 is all the other folks who work so hard, this year not withstanding. Not in any particular order we had our group of awesome pre-op and recovery room (& everything else) nurses: Larry Bristow, Heather Davis, & Elena Rohm who were all assisted by an awesome guy and translator Glen Segal. This portion of team one was a well oiled unit and had the best bathroom in the whole hospital (well at least until Wednesday when everyone else found out)!  Allison Curtis, who had her hands full as our team Physical Therapist. Honestly I don’t know how she did this all, I mean it’s not like the operative teams gave her many (any) country club, chip shot cases, eh Pablo?  And all of this without her normal gear, no walker or crutches! Team 1 is firmly rounded out by our “young people” to whom I will ever be grateful!  In the midst of our chaos this team washed, organized, wrapped, found, lost then found again, stole (briefly! she returned it when we were finished with it, it wasn’t our fault someone else needed it!).  The team of Connor Schwab, Alex Cutler, Lauren Vasquez, Lia ‘the safety dance queen’, and Fellipe ‘heading to Harvard genius’ knocked this week out of the ballpark!  We truly would have had our volume cut by a 1/3 if it were not for this team busting their backs to get it done!  Seriously guys, a job WELL DONE!  

Whew. That was a LOT of writing, my screen is smeared with a lot of bug guts, probably tastes better than plantains though. 

One final patient story this one from Allison our PT:  Today Allison told me about the woman who had the revision hip because she had a really bad infection. Her surgery was very complicated and her incision was pretty long. She had lost a lot of tissue on the inside and suturing her back together was pretty difficult. She ended up being awfully tight and we were worried that her ability to walk would be restricted. Allison told me that this patient who just had extensive surgery was walking normally and not taking any pain meds. The patient claimed she was hardly having any pain at all. This is extraordinary and totally unexpected, no pain meds and a gait normal to the other immediate post-op patients!  Unbelievable…

I know our guardian angel is still here, he will be taking care of these patients long after we’re gone. And despite the fact I am sad to be leaving my 2016 team behind, we will forever be bound by all the success we had here and all the blessings our Lord gives us. I am happy and proud to say you are a great team.  A job well done!

Mashed plantains with bacon in them for dinner. Even bacon couldn’t make them right…

Thank you for your generosity, your support, your prayers, and your emails. My apologies for not answering, we had our hands full of hips and knees. Your emails gave me strength, thanks!

This is it, the Diet Coke and fries await, thank you again for everything, your prayers, your support. Please remember to come to our fundraising auction the third weekend in September. Check out our website: Operation Walk – Freedom To Move.

God Bless you and good night…