Area healthcare professionals perform surgeries in Cuba
HAVANA, CUBA » A group of 47 Capital Region healthcare professionals recently traveled to Cuba to provide free, life-altering orthopedic surgeries to more than 50 Cuban nationals suffering from debilitating bone and joint conditions
The team, called “Operation Walk Albany,” was led by Dr. Jared Roberts, a fellowshiptrained total joint surgeon with an emphasis on advanced arthritis and joint problems, from The Bone & Joint Center in Albany.
“When I attended my first Operation Walk trip a couple of years ago, I saw so many patients crippled and in pain with no other healthcare options,” Roberts said in a press release. “Americans have tremendous choice about who they see, where and when. In Cuba, like so many other underserved countries, there are no other options besides Operation Walk.
“That’s what motivated me to form Operation Walk Albany.”
Roberts was accompanied by fellow Bone & Joint surgeons
Dr. Alexander Harbin and Dr. Marc Fuchs, as well as Dr. Jonathon Gainor and Dr. William O’Connor from Ortho NY.
Additionally, a total of 30 medical/surgical staff from Albany Medical Center, The Bone & Joint Center and Saratoga Hospital were part of the medical mission.
Dr. Erin Napoleone and Dr. Joe Napoleone, co-owners of Troy-based Choice Physical Therapy, and a physical therapist from Thomas Nicolla Physical Therapy in Albany, also participated to oversee post-operative care.
To prepare for the seven-day trip, the Operation Walk Albany team spent the past six months raising $150,000 to cover surgical supplies, airfare, lodging and meals.
“This trip is made possible thanks to the generous donations of members of the Capital Region community,” Roberts
More than 7,000 pounds of medical supplies, including surgical drapes, pillows, blankets, scalpels, bone cement, implants, walkers, crutches, canes, medicines and ultrasound machines were shipped 1,477 miles to the Latin American country in ad
vance of the visit.
After arriving at Hospital Ortopédico Docente Fructuoso Rodríguez, the team performed 56 joint replacements on 44 patients in just four days. There were 32 knee replacements and 24 hip replacements.
The group demonstrated and taught Cuban orthopedic surgeons: total hip, anterior and lateral approaches, total knee replacements as well as bilateral cases; taught Cuban anesthesiologists nerve blocks and spinal epidural techniques; taught Cuban nurses techniques including sterilizations, dressings, medications; and taught Cuban physical therapists gait training, transfers to/ from beds and toilets, exercises, and post operative joint precautions.
The Napoleones of Choice Physical Therapy, which has offices in Troy and Speigletown,
were honored to join Roberts’ team and have the opportunity to work with these patients before and after joint replacement surgery.
“Without knowing much of what to expect, it blew us away, the impact we had on these folks, and their families’ lives,” said Erin, who used what Spanish she knew from school to communicate with the Cuban patients.
“It really was life changing,” said Erin, whose area of expertise includes geriatric rehabilitation, and treatment of the knee and ankle. “You get a newfound respect for healthcare and for the patients that you’re treating.”
The severely arthritic patients treated through Operation Walk Albany had no other options for getting a joint replacement, Erin explained.
“There were tears of joy, pure gratitude,” she said. “The reaction was almost in disbelief that they now had functional limbs.”
Founded in 1996 by Dr. Lawrence Dorr, a world-renowned leader in joint replacement surgery, Operation Walk is a 501c3 volunteer organization that provides free surgery to patients who have no access to care for arthritis or other bone and joint conditions.
Since its founding, the organization has grown to 18 teams across the United States, Canada, and Ireland and has served more than 10,000 patients worldwide.
The recent trip to Cuba marked to first-ever Operation Walk Albany, which participants are planning to make an annual tradition.
Members of the physical therapy department, including directors from Cuba and from the Operation Walk Albany team, including Dr. Erin Napoleone and Dr. Joe Napoleone, left, co-owners of Troy-based Choice Physical Therapy, smile in between helping patients at Hospital Ortopédico Docente Fructuoso Rodríguez in Cuba.
Entire Operation Walk Albany team arrives at Hospital Ortopédico Docente Fructuoso Rodríguez in Cuba.
Dr. Erin Napoleone of Troybased Choice Physical Therapy, smiles with Emma, a bilateral knee replacement patient, during Operation Walk Albany.
Dr. Gainor and Dr. O’Connor from OrthoNY help a patient in Cuba.
Dr. Jared Roberts from The Bone & Joint Center in Albany celebrates with Cuban patient after successfully completing stairs during Operation Walk Albany.
Dr. Joe Napoleone of Troybased Choice Physical Therapy walks with a Cuban patient during Operation Walk Albany.
Dr. Jared Roberts from The Bone & Joint Center in Albany is interviewed by Cuban National news during Operation Walk Albany.