Improving Lives Through the Gift of Mobility

Amelia Santiago receives a free knee replacement via Southside Hospital’s orthopedic surgeons through Operation Walk USA. Marjorie Cole got a free knee replacement as well and is featured with her orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Giles Scuderi.

VALLEY STREAM, NY -- Two  women will be walking pain-free and enjoying other activities in the new year thanks to free knee replacements performed by North Shore-LIJ doctors through Operation Walk USA, a project that gives free knee and hip replacement surgeries for local residents who are uninsured and under-insured.

Sixty-two-year-old Rego Park resident Marjorie Cole’s right knee has been bothering her for about 15 years, with the pain increasing sharply in the last two years. In part because of this pain, Ms. Cole no longer works in hospitals and instead works in the home health care industry when she can.

“My passion is taking care of patients,” Ms. Cole said. She said she hopes that receiving a total right knee replacement will enable her to get a part-time job in a hospital and health insurance. For Ms. Cole, the only way she could walk comfortably before knee surgery was to wrap a bandage around her knee.

She said she also had to take two painkillers on a regular schedule to avoid pain. “If I miss a pill, then there’s a problem,” she said.

 For Brentwood’s Amelia Santiago, also 62, this is the second time in as many years that she is having her knee replaced through Operation Walk USA; last year, her right knee was replaced and this year it’s her left. Ms. Santiago used to enjoy walking in a park across the street from her apartment complex and shopping with her daughter, but both of those activities now require a lot of time and breaks to rest so they often are avoided.

 “This is a blessing,” Ms. Santiago said of having both of her knees replaced. “I couldn’t ask for a better gift. I’m grateful to my doctor and all the people who helped me.”

 Ms. Santiago’s surgery was performed by Fred Cushner, MD , chief of orthopedic surgery at Southside Hospital  in Bay Shore and Michael Nett, MD, an orthopedic surgeon at Southside; Ms. Cole’s procedure was at Franklin Hospital in Valley Stream and done by Giles Scuderi, MD, vice president of the orthopedic service line at North Shore-LIJ. Dr. Scuderi is also on the executive board of Operation Walk USA.

 “The best thing about Operation Walk USA is that it brought the medical staff and hospital together as a team with the intention of making a difference in the patients’ lives, who would otherwise not be able to afford such care,” Dr. Scuderi said. “Knowing that the quality of their lives is going to be better is so rewarding for everyone.”

 Dr. Cushner echoed those sentiments, saying, “The community has helped us so much at Southside and this is an opportunity for us to give them a procedure that can change their lives.”

Operation Walk USA is a national medical humanitarian organization founded in 2011 that provides free hip and knee replacement surgeries for patients suffering from disabling arthritis who are under or uninsured, which limits their access to such procedures. This year, Operation Walk USA has 109 orthopedic surgeons participating nationwide; they will be performing free surgeries on more than 200 patients in 29 states. Although more than one million knee and hip replacements are performed in the U.S. each year, many who could benefit from the surgery continue to live in pain because they can’t afford it. Operation Walk USA is an outreach of Operation Walk International, which has provided more than 6,000 total joint replacement surgeries worldwide to impoverished countries since the organization’s inception in 1996.

 Patients in Operation Walk USA undergo surgery and all of the related services at no expense including implants, anesthesia, rehabilitation and home care. All the implants are donated by the manufacturers. North Shore-LIJ’s participation in Operation Walk was also made possible with the help of the health system’s Sports Therapy and Rehabilitation Services , the Orzac Center for Extended Care & Rehabilitation in Valley Stream, North American Partners in Anesthesia at Franklin Hospital, the North Shore-LIJ Homecare Network , South Bay Anesthesia Assoc LLP and Southside Hospital’s acute rehabilitation unit.

 “This humanitarian team of physicians, nurses, physical therapists and others is committed to restoring patient mobility, self dignity, productivity and helping the patients return to their communities,” Dr. Scuderi said. “With the overwhelming success of Operation Walk USA as a national humanitarian organization we are looking at a greater impact in the future.”

For more information about North Shore-LIJ’s participation in Operation Walk, contact Alex Hellinger, associate executive director of Franklin Hospital, at (516) 256-6169 or Theresa Montuori Gagliardi, director of Southside’s Institute of Orthopedics, at (631) 968-3410.

To see a video about Operation Walk, click here.

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