Winnipeg docs give Nicaraguans gift of new knees

Dozens of Nicaraguans have new knees thanks to a corps of Winnipeg medical professionals and an incredible three days of free surgeries.
Dr. Thomas Turgeon looks over the x-rays of a knee replacement patient. (CBC)

Dozens of Nicaraguans have new knees thanks to a corps of Winnipeg medical professionals and an amazing three days of free surgeries.

"To give that to them and see the look on their faces after surgery, with tears rolling down their cheeks, as they just say gracias, gracias, gracias. It was a fantastic experience," said Thomas Turgeon, an orthopedic surgeon at Concordia Hospital and the medical director for the mission, called Operation Walk Winnipeg.

Dr. Thomas Turgeon poses with a grateful patient in Nicaragua. (Courtesy Thomas Turgeon)
​ "They are certainly one of the poorest nations in the Western Hemisphere and they have an enormous demand for knee replacement, especially. It was an area of need we felt we needed to help out with."

The Operation Walk Winnipeg team of 50 doctors, nurses and other health specialists, also raised $100,000 to send equipment to Nicaragua to perform the surgeries. They returned from the mission two weeks ago.

In the span of three days, the crew performed 54 knee surgeries on 40 patients. Turgeon said they were able to do it in such a short time because "we worked very efficiently."

They broke into four teams and used four rooms at the same time. And everyone was there — surgeons, nurses, anesthetists, physiotherapists, and the people necessary to clean and reprocess equipment, Turgeon said.

"We brought everything we needed to do it on our own."

The team was also able to train Nicaraguan medical residents at the same time.

Turgeon said many of the Nicaraguan patients had lost hope of ever getting a new knee. One patient was walking an hour and a half after having both knees replaced, he added.​

Turgeon was driven to help because he sees the benefit of knee replacements to people in Canada, who are fortunate to have access to the medical expertise.

"And when we see patients who have that same need but live in a country that does not have the capability to provide it for them — we felt we had to step in and help out," he said.

The demand for that type of surgery is so high, that only those people with the greatest need could be helped — and those people were identified by doctors in Nicaragua, Turgeon said.


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