By Amy E. Hamaker
Patricia Domay is a busy woman. At 72 years old, she caters for commercial video shoots, work she’s done for nearly 30 years. She grows her own organic vegetables, bakes an amazing coffee cake and charms those around her with her sunny personality.
In fact, the only thing that slows her down is her hip: The cartilage in Domay’s left hip joint has been worn away completely for nearly eight months, and the pain has taken its toll “My work is really strenuous,” she said. “Events are 10- to 12-hour days, plus an additional two days of prep work — all on my feet. I’ve always been very athletic — I’ve raced motorcycles, competed in tournament racquetball and hiked. It’s all hard on your body, but you don’t think about it when you’re young.”
Unfortunately, Domay is also unable to qualify for traditional or government-assisted health insurance. Previous treatment for breast cancer initially made Domay ineligible for traditional health insurance. And although Domay rents an apartment in Newhall, Calif., close to her work, she also owns a tiny 600-square-foot cabin in Mojave, Calif., as the place where she will ultimately retire — making her ineligible for MediCal coverage as well.
“The last time I saw my orthopaedist [Daniel Oakes, MD, associate professor of clinical orthopaedics] for a regular appointment, he said, ‘Why haven’t we done hip replacement surgery for you?’” said Domay. “I just fell through the cracks of the system.”
Thanks to Keck Medicine of USC’s work with Operation Walk USA, a private, nonprofit volunteer group that provides free joint surgery, on Dec. 6 Domay and four other patients received a chance to regain their active lifestyles through hip and knee replacements.
Currently in its third year, Operation Walk USA is a volunteer effort on behalf of more than 120 orthopaedic surgeons and 70 participating hospitals in 32 states.
Five Keck Medicine orthopaedic surgeons, all joint preservation experts, participated in the program: Lawrence Dorr, MD, professor of clinical orthopaedics at the Keck School of Medicine of USC; Paul Gilbert, MD, adjunct assistant professor of clinical orthopaedics; Jay Lieberman, MD, professor and chair, Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, and orthopaedist-in-chief of the Keck Medical Center of USC; Donald Longjohn, MD, assistant professor of clinical orthopaedics; and Oakes. Between them, the surgeons worked on six joints, including one bilateral hip, two right hips, one left hip and two right knees.
Operation Walk USA is an outgrowth of Operation Walk, founded in 1996 by Dorr. It provides free joint surgery for patients in developing countries. Dorr, Oakes and Michael Karp, MD, assistant professor of clinical medicine, recently led a group of 50 volunteer health care providers to Guatemala.
Domay is excited about the prospect of a new hip joint. “I told my culinary assistant that he has to take me Cumbia dancing once I’m back on my feet,” she said. “I want to walk with my neighbors out in the desert. I can’t wait to get this done. I told the therapists the trouble they’ll have with me is keeping me down.”