UNMC team provides orthopaedic relief in Guatemala

by Chuck Brown, UNMC public relations | November 29, 2011

As a UNMC team and other groups from North America performed 73 joint replacement surgeries during a recent health care mission in Guatemala, Kevin Garvin, M.D., was struck by the sheer toughness of the patients he encountered.

"We took 100 Vicodin -- a narcotic pain medication -- with us and we didn't use them all," the professor and chairman of UNMC's orthopaedic surgery department said. "We would have gone through thousands of narcotic pills for the same number of patients in the U.S."

Watch a video by Omaha photographer Scott Dobry that features footage from the UNMC team's 2010 trip to Guatemala to provide orthopaedic care.
Reason for the mission

The pain tolerance demonstrated by the patients reflected the conditions in Guatemala, where care for joint problems caused by arthritis and other conditions lacks, and validated the efforts of Dr. Garvin and the 10-person UNMC contingent that traveled to the Central American country.

The team from UNMC was joined by a group from London, Ontario, Canada, on the trip, which was part of Operation Walk, a national initiative to provide orthopaedic care in poorer nations.

"It was very humbling as the patients were so gracious and grateful," Dr. Garvin said. "It was quite the experience."

Past and future missions

This is second time a UNMC team has provided care in Guatemala through Operation Walk.

In 2010, an 16-person team from UNMC traveled to Guatemala. There are plans to participate in Operation Walk again next year, Dr. Garvin said.

Need on the home front

The need for such care also is prevalent in the United States, Dr. Garvin said, and that is why Operation Walk has initiated Operation Walk U.S.A., which takes place this week at various medical centers throughout the country including UNMC.

Through the program, about 85 uninsured patients from around the U.S. will receive free joint replacement surgeries. At least one of these surgeries will be performed by UNMC surgeons at The Nebraska Medical Center.

"We do this because it's the right thing to do," Dr. Garvin said.

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