USC Team Lends Its Surgical Expertise to Cuban Doctors

A USC orthopaedic team performs a hip replacement while Cuban doctors observe.

A TEAM OF USC physicians and support personnel has returned from a first-of-its kind mission to Cuba to train medical personnel in techniques of joint replacement surgeries, delivering hope to thousands of Cubans suffering from disabilities.

The USC team traveled to the ordinarily off-limits country under the auspices of Operation Walk, a nonprofit organization formed in 1994 to provide treatment for patients with arthritis or other debilitating conditions who would not otherwise have access to life-improving care.

According to the Cuban government, Operation Walk was the first group to enter the country to train medical personnel in joint replacement surgeries. In addition to performing nearly 50 such surgeries, the team of volunteers trained more than 100 Cuban physicians, nurses and physical therapists in joint replacement techniques.

The patients treated ranged from farmers to doctors, and their debilitating conditions varied as well. Many were confined to wheelchairs; others hobbled slowly and painfully behind walkers. By the end of the two-week medical mission, many were on their feet, taking their first steps free from their previously crippling conditions.

“It was inspiring for everyone on the team,” said Lawrence Dorr, director of the USC Center for Arthritis and Joint Implant Surgery and the founding director of Operation Walk. “There were a lot of tears, hugs and smiles from all involved.

“What was most satisfying was knowing that the Cubans have been trained to carry on this work.”

Operation Walk’s mission is to educate physicians and other medical personnel in the host country in the most advanced techniques and implants for joint replacement.

“In Third World countries where economic situations are dire, as they are in Cuba, the disabled become the discarded,” Dorr said. “We sought to provide a means to return these people to lives as productive members of society.”

The team of 28 who volunteered their time for the two-week trip included these

USC staff members: orthopaedic surgeon Dorr, who led the trip; orthopaedic surgeon Donald Longjohn; internist John Brodhead; anesthesiologists Julio Raya and Ted Carden; operating room technician Bud Farrier; registered nurses Jeri Ward, Rosanna Springer, Vi Gabule, Linda Norris, Jennifer Valdez and Mary Ellen Sieben; physical therapists Kyle Baldwin and Sam Ward; University Hospital administrator Sylvia Kelly; implant manager Rich Cadarette; biomedical technician Lex Sessenbrenner; medical assistant Nancy Belshe; and photographer Jim Morris.

MORE THAN $2 MILLION in supplies and equipment was donated from USC University Hospital, organizations such as Disarm Education and Disaster Relief International and individuals such as Barbra Streisand, Stanley Sheinbaum, Sidney Pollak and Norman Lear.

Dorr said that due to the tight U.S. restrictions, the donated supplies had to be shipped by boat weeks in advance via Mexico.

Operation Walk is based in the Center for Arthritis and Joint Implant Surgery at USC University Hospital. Dorr, who is director of the center, is a national leader in joint replacement research.