70 joints, 75 staff members, 5 days.

Operation Walk Denver, headed by Dr. Douglas Dennis, sent the medical staff to Panama in April of 2013 to complete artificial joint surgeries on those who couldn’t otherwise afford it.

About six orthopedic surgeons, five anesthesiologists, two internists, plus teams of physical therapists, floor nurses, surgical techs and pre-op nurses made the trip to Panama. St. Mary’s Physician of the Year recipient, Dr. Jeffrey Nakano, traveled to give orthopedic surgeries six times since 2006: twice in Guatemala, four times in Panama.

Nakano said he met Dennis years earlier, which is when he first heard of the program. But, he wasn’t really able to join Operation Walk until his kids finished school.

“I thought that it’d be a good opportunity to do artificial joints. I’ve always had a good time doing what I’m doing; artificial joint [surgeries are] the most rewarding because patients get a new lease on life,” Nakano said.

He also spoke of how rewarding it was to help those who would not normally get this kind of care. And because of it the people were grateful.

Nakano said that the trip could become very expensive. Doctors pay their airfare expenses, and shipping the supplies is about $70,000. Strong fundraising helped keep the program going – Nakano said several of his patients have donated money to the organization over the years.

Prior to arriving in Panama, the program screens 100-120 patients, which are then narrowed to 70 candidates that will receive the orthopedic surgeries.

Nakano said Operation Walk’s connections in Panama keep the process running smoothly. Not only do they screen the patients prior to the surgeries, but they take care of the patients after the team of medical staff has left.

“It couldn’t be done without the help of those who help after we leave. These are major operations, and some may need some medical support,” Nakano said.

The staff completes 21 surgeries each day, over four days, compared to the 5-7 surgeries on a normal operative day in the states.

“The best part of going is that you’re going with people who have like-minded goals. It’s extremely rewarding,” Nakano said.

Operation Walk began to expand its borders in 2011. St. Mary’s Hospital in Grand Junction participated in the program in 2012. The hospital donated joints for three patients, which allowed for the surgeons to provide a free operation for those in need.

Nakano’s honor
Nakano’s work with the Operation Walk program was noticed. He received the St. Mary’s Physician of the Year Award in 2013, which recognized his more than 30 years of work in medicine and charitable work within Operation Walk.

“There were a lot of deserving doctors…It’s an honor to be named in view of the doctors named previously, all who I’ve had respect for,” Nakano said.

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