OrthoCarolina physicians lead OpWalk mission to Cuba

Written by Adam Schrag | February 23, 2017 | Print  |

In 2016, award-winning orthopedic surgeons, Bryan Springer, MD, and Walter Beaver, MD, of Charlotte, N.C.-based OrthoCarolina Hip and Knee Center launched Operation Walk Carolinas, an organization that sends surgeons to developing countries to perform joint replacements.

In May, OpWalk Carolinas is heading to Cuba, where surgeons from OrthoCarolina, Novant Health and Carolinas Healthcare System hope to perform upwards of 50 joint replacements and train Cuban surgeons during their short visit. They will be performing procedures at CIMEQ hospital in Havana.


Q: Why did Operation Walk Carolinas decide to go to Cuba?


Dr. Bryan Springer: The mission of Operation Walk is to go to underserved areas in developing countries. Cuba has long been known to have excellent doctors and provides excellent basic healthcare. However, certain things would be considered a luxury. A typical joint replacement in the U.S. would cost $50,000 to 60,000 with the implants being the most costly portion of the surgery. In developing countries there is simply not the money to do these life changing procedures.


In the U.S., a patient may wait six weeks to get a hip or knee replacement; in a developing country, it's simply not an option. As a result, many people suffer with crippling arthritis for the majority of their adult lives, living in pain and unable to work. Cuba has a tremendous need as do many places. In fact, Cuba was one of the original locations of an OpWalk Mission 20 years ago. Teams have been over the years and there continues to be a huge need. 


Q: What sort of legal and logistical processes will the surgeons have to undergo in order to get to Cuba?


BS: Because Cuba is a communist country, the legal and logistical process has been challenging. First and foremost, it is expensive. Our trip is expected to cost about $150,000 where a typical trip to another country may be $80,000 to $100,000. All of this money is raised through donations and fundraising. Our biggest challenges have been getting approval from the ministry of health and securing a date. The hurricane this past fall was devastating to Cuba and diverted some resources and required us to reschedule our trip several times. We now have approval and have our licenses. Our next challenge is securing our visa and getting our cargo shipped and secured safely.


Q: How long will the trip be?


BS: We will be there a week. We arrive on a Wednesday to unpack cargo. On Thursday we will screen over 100 patients as potential candidates for surgery. We will operate on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. We will do follow-up and discharge patients on Monday and Tuesday and head home on Wednesday. We plan to do about 50 joint replacements and some patient will have two joints replaced at the same time.


Q: What does the follow-through look like after each Operation Walk Carolina — are native surgeons typically able to master important surgical techniques as a result of the visiting physicians' impact?


BS: We have a champion surgeon in Cuba who will assist in taking care of the patients. Another Operation Walk Team will go in the fall and follow up with our patients and we will follow up with their patients when we are there. In addition, education of physicians, nurses, therapists, or personnel is a very important part of our mission. While there, we will be teaching and giving lectures in the hopes of furthering the education of the healthcare professional in Cuba.


Q: What did it take to get OrthoCarolinas, Novant and Carolinas Healthcare System to work together? Does this type of collaboration happen often?


BS: OrthoCarolina, CHS and Novant have been and are integral to the success of Op Walk Carolinas. As mentioned above, this mission trip will cost about $150,000. We will bring a team of 50 people and ship nearly 10,000 lbs of supplies. We do not use any resources from the hospital where we work. The hospitals realize they have employees who are dedicating their time, PTO, money and expertise to make the lives of these patients with crippling arthritis better. It is wonderful to see the hospital systems, which are often competitive with each other, work together to support Operation Walk Carolinas. They have donated supplies and are 100 percent supportive of their employees being involved in this mission.


In addition we have seen a tremendous amount of support from our patients that have had joint replacements here at OrthoCarolina who have donated money to our mission as well.


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