Tucson Orthopaedic Institute surgeons team up with Operation Walk USA to change lives

Carlos Lopez Operation Walk USA patient

Carlos Lopez
Operation Walk USA patient

Recovering from major surgery isn’t something anyone looks forward to – unless you’re 49-year-old Carlos Lopez.  Lopez is home after spending the past few days in TMC’s new Orthopaedic and Surgical Tower.  For him, the recovery process means he’s finally received something he’s dreamed of for years – a new hip.

Lopez had been in excruciating pain since August 2009 when the father of four suffered an on-the-job injury.  He was a food service truck driver and was headed to Texas on Interstate 10 when a car slammed into his truck causing it to roll.  “I felt like I was in a tornado,” he said.  Lopez’s legs were pinned beneath the steering wheel, and he was trapped for about half an hour until emergency medical services arrived and cut him out of the wreckage.

Lopez's truck after the accident

Lopez’s truck after the accident

Lopez underwent therapy, but when he returned to work a month later, the pain continued.  He endured it for years until it finally forced him to quit in January 2012. “The pain was unbearable.  I would fall off the ramp at work and injure myself.  I was physically not able to do my job anymore.  Since my case had been closed, I was not eligible to receive any more help under worker’s comp,” Lopez said before his surgery.  “My legs are uneven because of the problem with my right hip, and my left leg being forced to compensate.  I live with constant, excruciating pain between my knee and hip.  I’ve developed a hernia from my injuries, as well as a back problem.”

Before his surgery, he walked with double canes for support.

Lopez is one of 10 patients from around Southern Arizona who received the joint replacement surgery they so desperately needed, but were unable to afford.  It’s all made possible thorugh a partnership between Tucson Medical Center and Operation Walk, a private, not-for-profit, volunteer medical services organization that provides free surgical treatment for patients who do not have access to life-improving care for debilidating bone and joint conditions.

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.  “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,” said Dr. Cohen.

Four Tucson Orthopaedic Institute surgeons, including Drs. Cohen, Andrew Mahoney, John Wild, and Larry Housman, performed the surgeries on these patients in one day.  “It’s so gratifying to be able to help these people get back to doing what they love, without being in pain.  Some of these patients – through no fault o their own – had their lives turned upside down, and I am happy to be able to help them in this way.  It’s the right thing to do,” said Dr. Housman.

The patients meet medical guidelines, as well as financial poverty guidelines.

Carlos Lopez before surgery

Carlos Lopez
before surgery

“I feel so overwhelmed and blessed to be part of this program,” said Lopez.  “I truly consider it a miracle that I was selected.  I know the recovery process will be challenging, but I’m ready for it.  I will do whatever it takes to get back on my feet without my double canes.”

The program was the result of a well-coordinated effort by entire teams of people who made it possible.  The surgeons donated their time, as did anesthesiologists from Old Pueblo Anesthesia.  Hospitalists volunteered their time to care for these patients after their surgery.  Tucson Medical Center donated the space and necessary prescription medications.  Stryker Orthopaedics provided the joints, and Gentiva is providing free home health services to assist these patients during their recovery.

These patients receive top-notch care all the way through their recovery process – at no cost to them.

For patients like Lopez, this is just the beginning of a drastically improved quality of life.

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