Spokane surgeons travel to Cuba, perform 65 joint replacement surgeries
The warm, humid air stuck to their skin immediately upon arrival as they became fully immersed in the Cuban atmosphere. Brightly colored cars whisked by, Spanish music was heard from a distance and there was a friendliness in the air that couldn’t be ignored.
Just minutes later, they found themselves at the local Fructuoso Rodríguez Orthopedic Teaching Hospital of Havana, but what awaited them was a complete surprise.
“I’ve never felt so welcomed,” says Jonathan Keeve, MD, Medical Director of MultiCare Valley Hospital’s joint replacement program. “From the minute we walked in, there was a huge crowd of families and patients applauding. It was such a moving experience.”
As part of a team of 70 medical professionals including surgeons, anesthetists, nurses, rehabilitators and translators, Dr. Keeve and Kirk Reichard, MD, Medical Director of MultiCare Deaconess Hospital’s joint replacement program, volunteered their time to perform joint replacement surgeries for the Cuban community. Since Dr. Reichard and Dr. Keeve are also surgeons and partners in the Northwest Orthopaedic Specialists practice in Spokane, their breadth of experience led to a successful week spent in Cuba this past November as part of Operation Walk.
“It’s a remarkably complex thing to replace someone’s hip or knee, but to go to a place where they don’t routinely replace people’s joints and bring them up to that level overnight at some points felt impossible,” says Dr. Reichard. “It took months of planning and cohesive teamwork to make it a successful trip.”
Surgeons in the United States perform approximately 1 million hip and knee replacement surgeries annually, but due to their lack of medical resources, tools and infrastructure, Cuban residents receive only 100 similar surgeries in a single year — largely thanks to medical missions akin to Operation Walk.
“People come from all walks of life. Some people came from long distances to be seen and they were there long enough that we got to know them and their families pretty well,” says Dr. Keeve. “Everyone was so grateful, friendly and excited to have us there.”
Operation Walk is a not-for-profit, volunteer medical service organization that provides free surgical treatment for patients suffering from debilitating bone and joint conditions in developing countries and in the United States. For some patients, these missions may provide the only chance they’d get in their lifetime to walk again.
“There was a Cuban woman in her 70s who had been in a wheelchair for years, literally could not stand up, and we operated on both of her knees,” Dr. Keeve says. “Afterward, she walked herself out of the hospital.”
During each international surgical mission, Operation Walk also educates in-country orthopedic surgeons, nurses, physical therapists and other health care professionals on the most advanced treatments and surgical techniques for diseases of the hip and knee joints.
“Their surgeons ended up watching us during cases,” says Dr. Reichard. “They got some on-the-job training while we were there.”
In just three days, Dr. Keeve and Dr. Reichard, alongside their Operation Walk colleagues, successfully performed 65 hip and knee replacement surgeries, which helped more than 40 people regain their ability to walk, work and live comfortably.
“Once you go on one humanitarian trip, you don’t ever want to stop,” says Dr. Keeve. “The smiles really make it all worth it.”
This sentiment was reiterated by both doctors during an informative presentation held at MultiCare Valley Hospital on Jan. 23. They also expressed their gratitude for the support they felt from their MultiCare family.“Although MultiCare wasn’t our only sponsor, they were our largest one and we’re so grateful for their support,” says Dr. Keeve. “We look forward to their continued support as plans for another Operation Walk medical mission to Cuba this year are already under way.”
About The Author
Jean-Paul Arnaud-Marquez is a Multimedia Production and Social Media Specialist for the MultiCare Inland Northwest’s marketing team. He creates multimedia products and manages the Facebook, Instagram and Twitter pages for MultiCare Inland Northwest and women’s health and birth centers. He’s also an MBA candidate with a concentration in health care at the University of Arizona.More stories by this author