From August 11 to August 17, a team of Keck Medicine of USC providers participated in an Operation Walk Los Angeles trip to Arusha, Tanzania. The team, led by Paul Gilbert, MD, assistant professor of clinical orthopaedic surgery, and made up of volunteers from Keck Hospital of USC and USC Verdugo Hills Hospital, performed hip and knee replacement surgeries for less-advantaged communities throughout the area.

“There are thousands of people around the world who suffer from arthritis and are unable to walk,” said Gilbert. “We are blessed with the resources and ability to help at least some of them. It is the mission of all health care providers to eliminate pain and suffering.”

During this medical mission, Gilbert and internal medicine lead Aneesah Smith, MD, clinical assistant professor of medicine in the Division of Geriatric, Hospital, Palliative, and General Internal Medicine at the Keck School, were part of a contingent of caregivers asked to attend a state luncheon with Tanzanian President Samia Suluhu Hassan. Comprised of more than 150 dignitaries from health systems across Tanzania, the luncheon provided a forum to discuss the logistics and difficulties of bringing medical missions to the country. Speaking to the attendees, President Hassan committed to refining the process of facilitating medical missions, and also discussed her goals for providing universal health care to the Tanzanian people.

“Getting an opportunity to meet with President Hassan and Tanzanian health care leaders was truly inspiring,” said Smith. “Although this is a progressive country, it still faces many challenges in providing the highest quality of health care to its citizens. We were honored to contribute to the well-being of the Tanzanian people, and to collaborate with Tanzanian health care leaders on how best to provide long-lasting and meaningful care to the country.”

Operation Walk Los Angeles was founded by Dr. Lawrence Dorr in 1995, with the mission of visiting less-advantaged countries to do hip and knee replacement surgeries. Dr. Dorr, a total joint replacement surgeon who passed away in 2014, developed a robust education program designed to share experiences and knowledge related to joint replacement. Gilbert, who is now president of Operation Walk Los Angeles, has completed 14 missions with the organization.

“What’s important to note is that these missions allow us to learn and become better providers. Here, we accomplish success in the face of challenging circumstances, and are exposed to other surgeons, nurses, and therapists whom we learn greatly from,” said Gilbert. “And the joys we experience are myriad: seeing the faces of patients who are able to walk again without pain; knowing that they are able to contribute to their families again; and seeing our colleagues tackle and complete a complex joint replacement. For us, like our patients, these are truly life-changing experiences.”

— Matthew Vasiliauskas