A group of six Brandon health-care workers returned home on Nov. 12 as part of a medical mission performing knee replacements in Nicaragua.
Nurses Rachelle Lesy, Stephanie Phillips and Crystal Smitzniuk, physiotherapist Jill Twordik, Jessica Dyck from equipment processing and surgeon Norman Klippenstein were part of Operation Walk Manitoba, a humanitarian initiative that has been travelling to this Central American country to provide mobility-restoring procedures for patients who otherwise would not have access to this treatment. The 65-member team volunteers their time, pays their own way and fundraises for the significant costs involved. Each year the group is expectantly welcomed back to provide more knee replacements in one week than their hospital can otherwise perform in several years.
This was the third such trip for three of the Brandon participants, which once again represented not only a charitable endeavour but also afforded rewarding team-building and cross-cultural experiences. Operation Walk was unable to carry out the mission last year due to national civil unrest and violent government reprisals in which hundreds of protesters were killed. Over the last seven years, the group has had a significant impact working in an inner-city hospital in a poor neighbourhood in one of the most impoverished countries in the Western Hemisphere.
Hundreds of much-needed knee operations have been performed, providing pain-free mobility, improved work capability and enhanced quality of life.
This year, the multidisciplinary group coordinated an intensive effort to perform 62 knee replacements, as well as to fit knee braces for those who could not have operations. This was all the more notable given the local setting of significantly reduced resources, outdated equipment, dubious sterility and temperatures over 30 C with minimal or no air conditioning.
The pre- and post-operative care, physiotherapy and teaching was carried out by the team with the help of Spanish translators. Knee implants and equipment had been shipped several months earlier, along with donated supplies, knee braces and walking aids, which Operation Walk provides each year to help upgrade the hospital.
This year, two large sterilization autoclaves had been purchased and installed, assisting not only our busy operating schedule but supporting the hospital in their ongoing surgical programs.
The gratitude and emotional outpouring of the families and recipients of these reconstructed knees was both inspiring and humbling. They amazed us with their rapid recovery, the desire to demonstrate their new mobility, and their expressions of appreciation.
In a system where the families of patients take bedside responsibility to feed, clean and tend various needs, the wards were crowded and lively with interaction. Local medical trainees eagerly assisted our team for additional teaching and experience. Offering tearful thank yous, token gifts and words of blessing, these typically genial and gracious people left a deep impression on the team.
One patient referred to Operation Walk in an interview with a local TV station as “the team of faith and hope.”
Brandon hospital orthopedic workers have once again returned from this unforgettable medical mission with the indelible impressions of the stark contrasts between our Canadian standard of living, health-care system and opportunities and those of another part of the world.
The combination of collective generosity, professional extension and enthusiastic teamwork makes the hard work gratifying. Most notably, we will not forget the warmth and dignity of the people of Nicaragua that we served.
We also extend our sincere thanks to those of our hospital, community and region who have supported, encouraged and stepped in for us during this remarkable experience.
Operation Walk is a not-for-profit, volunteer medical service organization whose purpose is to provide surgical treatments to patients who live in developing countries that have little or no access to debilitating bone & joint disease care.