Tucson Grandmother will get life-changing surgery thanks to Tucson Medical Center and Tucson Orthopaedic Institute

Tucson resident Tina Contreras never imagined that at 52-years-old, she’d barely be able to walk some days.  Years of wear and tear on her knee from playing sports as part of her active lifestyle finally took its toll.  Her chronic knee pain started about fifteen years ago.  “I had arthroscopic surgery, but it didn’t fix the pain.  I’d get cortisone shots, and feel great.  And then about two or three days later, the pain was back. I’ve had knee pain for so long, I forget what it’s like to live without it, ” she says.   

When Tina was diagnosed with stage three breast cancer in 2008, the knee surgery she so desperately needed took a back seat.  By 2010, her battle was over, and she was cancer free.  That same year, she also became a grandma, and now has two grandbabies who are the loves of her life.  “My 2-year-old grandson grunts going up and down the stairs.  I wondered why, until I realized it’s because it’s what he sees me do,” she laughs. 

A total knee replacement was inevitable – but as a self-employed contractor, not feasible for financial reasons.  This weekend, Tina – along with five other patients from Southeastern Arizona – will get the knee or hip replacement surgery they so desperately need, at no cost to them.  A total joint replacement for them signifies a new life free of pain.

It’s being done through a first-of-its-kind program facilitated by Tucson Medical Center.  Tucson Orthopaedic Institute will provide free joint replacement surgery to underserved patients whose quality of life has been severely impacted by debilitating arthritis. 

The patients meet medical guidelines, as well as financial poverty guidelines.  “These are low-income patients who don’t qualify for AHCCCS or Medicare, who don’t have insurance offered to them through their job, or who can’t afford health insurance,” explains TMC Orthopaedics Manager Sandi Triplett.  Tina doesn’t qualify for AHCCCS, but can’t afford COBRA insurance.  This program targets people who are in similar situations.

The idea behind the program was brought to TMC by Orthopaedic surgeon Dr. Russell Cohen.  He was inspired by a trip he took to Vietnam as part of “Operation Walk International” – a non-profit organization that sends volunteer surgeons to developing countries to perform joint replacements.  Dr. Cohen says, “I was very moved by the gratitude people showed.  It’s a true honor to take care of those with no means to otherwise be helped.  I wanted to help those in need who live in our community.” 

As part of the program, Dr. Cohen from Tucson Orthopaedic Institute, and Dr. Luis Esparza from Old Pueblo Anesthesia will donate their time and expertise.  Hospitalist Dr. Sreelekha Susarla is volunteering her time to care for patients after their surgery.  Tucson Medical Center is donating the space.  Stryker Orthopedics is providing the joints, and Gentiva will provide free home health services to assist these patients during their recovery. 

“Thank you to everyone who made this program possible including Tucson Orthopaedic Institute, Old Pueblo Anesthesia, nursing and clinical staff, and the companies that are so generously donating their devices and services.  As Tucson’s community hospital, this program exemplifies what TMC stands for.  Giving back.  We feel honored to have the opportunity to improve these patient’s lives,” says Linda Wojtowicz, Sr. VP, Chief Operations Officer, Chief Nursing Officer at TMC.

These patients will have top-notch care provided to them at no cost from the minute they show up for surgery, all the way through their recovery process.  This program will give these patients the ability to drastically improve their quality of life.

Tina gets emotional at the thought of getting to live an active lifestyle once again.  “I am just so thankful to all of the people involved who are doing this for me.  All I want to do is be able to sit on the floor and play with my grandbabies,” she says.  “This surgery will allow me to do that.”

Click here to see KOLD News 13’s coverage of the story.
Click here to see KVOA News 4 Tucson’s coverage of the story.


  1. I’m honored to be an employee of TMC….Thank you Dr.R.Cohen, TOI, Dr.Esparza

  2. Wow. This is awesome. So happy for you Tina. Soon you will be running With your grandchildren

Leave a Reply

Tucson Medical Center | 5301 E. Grant Road | Tucson, Arizona 85712 | (520) 327-5461
%d bloggers like this: