In the spring of 2018, I had the privilege of traveling with the Denver chapter of Operation Walk to Mexico for a medical mission trip. Operation Walk is a not-for-profit medical services organization that provides hip and knee replacements for patients suffering from debilitating bone and joint conditions in developing countries and in the United States who do not have access to medical care.
This was my second medical mission trip with Operation Walk, and as I have been told one of the most frustrating trips the Denver chapter has endeavored. After months and months of preparation and endless amounts of paperwork and communication with the Mexico customs department Operation Walk Denver did not receive clearance for the cargo shipment. With only a week until the upcoming trip, volunteers were left scrambling to pack the supplies (instruments and implants for the surgeries, as well as medicines and supplies for post operative care) into their own suitcases, duffle bags, and cases and haul them personally on the trip.
When we finally arrived in Mexico, the troubles continued. The customs department searched the items and would not release our needed supplies. Finally, after numerous conversation and 8 hours of explanations, the implants and equipment were released. The volunteers hurried to the hospital to unpack. Unfortunately, a full day of operating was lost.
Another roadblock also was realized. With the unpacking and examination of the surgical instrumentation as customs, much of our needed instruments had become unsterile. With the need to resterilize numerous surgical instruments, the hospitals sterilization machine became overwhelmed. One the first day only 5 joint replacements had been performed before we had to stop to repair the sterilizer.
The team was not deterred. We woke early the next morning to begin our work again. The four surgeons and our teams worked tirelessly to perform a total of 28 knee replacements over the next two days.
While the original goal of the trip was to complete 48 procedures, it was still an incredible experience. The trip allowed us to improve the quality of life of so many people who otherwise would have not had access to a joint replacement. At the end of the trip, the patients were appreciative and eager to get up and get moving, and get back to life.
I plan to continue my work with Operation Walk and helping people around the world in need of hip or knee replacements.
Implants, Instruments, and Supplies on the loading docks at customs
The truck carrying our “cleared” supplies from customs to the hospital
Will Petit, PA-C (right), David Holst, MD (center), and me (left) performing a total knee replacement.
The operating room also had some HVAC issues.
Learn more about David Clinton McNabb, MD.