WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — Barbara Jordan used to love walking trails in the Blue Ridge Parkway with her grandchildren.
“We’d try to catch the waterfalls — walk down to them,” Jordan said of her trips with Nevan and Keegan Cantrell, 14 and 13, respectively.
But a few years ago she started having hip problems and had to use a cane and walker. She found it hard to get in and out of her car. Mobility in her apartment wasn’t that much better.
“When I would turn and make a move, I had to hold on to something,” Jordan said of Wilkesboro.
Life changed dramatically for Jordan last month. She and another local patient, Gary Brown of Greensboro, received joint replacements free of charge. Jordan got a new hip and Brown received a new knee.
The replacement surgeries were coordinated through Operation Walk USA, based in Rosemont, Ill., and were performed at Forsyth Medical Center by Dr. David Howe, an orthopedic surgeon with OrthoCarolina in Winston-Salem.
Brown said he took early retirement from his job as a Greensboro firefighter in 1996 because of a knee injury. He had his left knee replaced in 2008 and then held out as long as he could before a doctor told him it was time to replace the right one.
“Basically, what we’re talking about is quality of life,” Brown said. “People don’t understand. When you live with pain every single day, it affects everything you do.”
Operation Walk USA started in 2010. The nonprofit received its inspiration from Operation Walk, an international volunteer medical-service organization that provides treatment for patients with arthritis and joint conditions in developing countries. More than 6,500 patients have received new knees and hips through the international Operation Walk and more than 500 through Operation Walk USA.
Operation Walk USA provides its free program annually during the first week of December. The treatment covers surgery, hospitalization and preoperative and postoperative care for patients who may not qualify for government health coverage, may not have insurance or may not be able to afford surgery on their own.
Howe knew about the program and contacted Novant Health a year ago, hoping Forsyth Medical Center would team up with OrthoCarolina to provide free hips and knees for local patients.
“I think the need is here and not just outside the U.S.,” Howe said.
He estimated that the overall cost for a hip or knee replacement is between $30,000 and $40,000 before insurance — a cost that is out of range for a lot of patients.
Jordan and Brown said they are thankful for the free services because they don’t have insurance.
Howe said that a lot of people still don’t have access to health care, despite all the recent changes. He also said that hip and knee replacements tend to be elective surgeries, not emergencies.
“This is a way for us to do that in the community and help those patients,” Howe said.
Heather Norman, director of nursing for Forsyth Medical Center, and Steve Garner, the hospital’s manager of orthopedic services, worked together to help coordinate the surgeries with Howe.
Norman talked to the hospital’s administrators to get permission for the surgeries, and Garner handled the logistics and day-to-day needs of all parties involved. Other companies that provided free services were DePuy (implants), LabCorp (lab services), Triad Radiology and Piedmont Anesthesia. OrthoCarolina also provided physical therapy services.
Norman said that Forsyth Medical Center got involved because hospital administrators believed that Operation Walk USA would help Novant Health accomplish its mission.
“Mobility is very important in keeping patients healthy, not just for being able to walk but keeping their whole lives healthy,” Norman said. “So our mission at Novant Health is to improve the lives of our community one patient at a time.”
Jordan and Brown said their surgeries went well.
“If it had not been for this program and the people who have helped me out, I don’t know what I would have done,” Brown said.
Jordan said that her grandson’s goal for her this year is to complete a 5K run.
“(Nevan) told me if I couldn’t run, ‘You’ll walk,’” Jordan said.