Photo by Hope Hamashige
By Hope Hamashige
Steve McKellar thought the pain in his hips probably had something to do with being a college athlete, who played water polo for USC, followed by a career as a contractor. By his late 40s, McKellar was walking with a severe limp, suffered from constant pain and learned that his problem was arthritis that was so severe he needed both hips replaced.
And on Dec. 7, he finally got the new hips he needed as one of the patients who received free joint replacement surgery at Keck Hospital of USC as part of Operation Walk USA 2012. In all, Keck Hospital doctors operated on seven patients as part of Operation Walk, including McKellar, whose arthritis had changed the course of his life.
In all, Keck Hospital doctors operated on seven patients as part of Operation Walk, including McKellar, whose arthritis had changed the course of his life.
“We lost everything,” said McKellar’s wife, Vallie. The couple, both 51, recently moved in with family since his arthritis prevented him from working for the last several years. And without a job, they lost their insurance and cannot afford the $75,000 to $80,000 price tag of an out of pocket bilateral hip replacement.
“A lot of people don’t understand that arthritis can be completely debilitating,” said Lawrence D. Dorr, clinical professor of orthopaedic surgery at the Keck School of Medicine of USC. Many of the Operation Walk patients could not work, have trouble sitting or driving cars because the pain is so intense.
Danny Gonzalez, another of the Operation Walk patients who received a new hip at Keck Hospital, told his daughters his arthritis made him feel like he was in prison because he was largely confined to a recliner chair. By the time he learned he needed new hips, one of his joints was already in shards, a result of degenerative bone disease.
“I would be in a wheelchair right now if it weren’t for Operation Walk,” said Gonzalez, who walked the halls of Keck Hospital just hours after his surgery. “Dr. Dorr has completely changed my life.
Operation Walk USA was modeled after Operation Walk, a nonprofit founded by Dorr in 1995. Operation Walk has provided free joint replacement surgeries to more than 6,000 patients in the developing world.
Dorr said he realized that while they were helping people around the globe, there were people in the United States who needed that kind of help just as desperately. In addition to the surgery, they also receive post-operative care and physical therapy. Keck is not the only hospital participating in Operation Walk USA and this year more than 100 surgeons signed up to participate in giving upward of 200 people new joints around the country.
Dorr said one of the reasons he and his staff devote so much time to Operation Walk is because it is so rewarding to see people get their lives back. “These are people who have not worked, have been socially isolated, many of them have suffered depression because of their condition,” he said. “They are going to get back to their lives after today.”