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Students reflect on Operation Walk experiences

May 10, 2010

Since 2005, Cornell students have regularly joined Dr. Larry Dorr ’63 and other medical professionals on Operation Walk, a medical mission that performs hip and knee replacements in countries such as China, Peru, and Viet Nam. During the trips, students observe surgeries and assist with physical therapy and many other aspects of the project.

Adam with patient

Adam Norton: "I learned a lot about resiliency and perseverance from these patients and to that I owe them everything for making this trip a once-in-a-lifetime experience."

The following are reflections from several recent student participants on Operation Walk.

Eric Reese, Viet Nam, 2010

What was most meaningful about Operation Walk?
You get to see another culture with limited healthcare resources, and you also get to learn from and interact with a medical staff of excellent caliber. The team was great. Everyone was willing to help me learn or answer any question I had.

Any particular highlights?
Getting the patients out of bed following surgery. We got to go in their rooms and interact with the patients and their families, all whom were so grateful. The stories of their injuries and their lifestyles were unbelievable–they had been through so much and you really wanted to do anything you could for them.

Another highlight of the trip was Dr. Dorr’s enthusiasm about getting us, as students, involved in as many cases as possible. Many times he marched me into the operating room to observe. He also had me take control of communication in a few cases and find out what was bothering the patient and what they hoped to accomplish with a joint replacement. A few times the goals and outcomes of joint replacement surgery didn’t match up, and surgery couldn’t be done. While tough to explain to the patient, it was a great lesson for me to learn. 

Did the trip affect your future goals or plans?
Being on the trip introduced me to all fields of health care. We got to work with nurses, doctors of multiple specialties, physician’s assistants, and physical therapists. Getting to see their jobs and assist them really opened my eyes to the duties they each perform. It showed how you have to work together and communicate expectations. The doctors perform the surgeries, but without the nurses and techs they cannot do their jobs. I left there with just as much respect for the rest of the team as I did the doctors.

Alisa Vickrey, Guatemala, 2009

What was most meaningful about Operation Walk?
Seeing how emotional some of the patients became when they were approved to receive knee or hip replacements was incredible. Many of the people had come such long distances to be considered for treatments that they would otherwise most likely never be able to receive–practically without any cost to them.

Any other particular highlights?
Two days after all of the surgeries were completed, we took a group photo with all of the patients and the Operation Walk teams from Pittsburgh and Los Angeles. We had finished about 44 surgeries in four days. It was at that moment that I realized what a wonderful accomplishment it was not just for Operation Walk, but for the patients to look forward to their new lives ahead of them–being able to move pain free.

Did the trip affect your future goals or plans?
I really enjoy doing mission trips and providing care to people who may be overlooked because of financial reasons or lack of medical coverage. It has renewed a desire to serve people that would otherwise not be able to receive care.

Adam Norton, El Salvador, 2009

What was most meaningful about Operation Walk?
Operation Walk was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to work with a team of dedicated professionals to help change the lives of the people of El Salvador. Having a background in the Spanish language and culture, I was able to connect on a personal level with our patients and their families which helped to bring things into perspective and fueled my dedication to pursue a career in medicine to help the greater good of humanity.

Any other particular highlights?
One of my fondest memories of Operation Walk was having the opportunity to follow a particular patient through the entire process of their joint replacement. This was meaningful to me because I was able to see how debilitated they were prior to the surgery and how it impacted not only their life but their family’s lives as well. I was able to create a relationship with this patient and their family throughout the entire process and ultimately seeing how their life had changed for the better after surgery made the long hours and hot days worthwhile. I learned a lot about resiliency and perseverance from these patients and to that I owe them everything for making this trip a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Did the trip affect your future goals or plans?
Operation Walk had quite an impact on me and my future plans. Working and talking with everyone on the trip, my interests began shifting towards Orthopaedics and Sports Medicine. These interests ultimately led me to obtain a research position at the University of Iowa in Sports Medicine and Orthopedics prior to going to Medical School.

Amanda Jepson, Peru, 2007

What was most meaningful about Operation Walk?
I liked working on the floor with physical therapy because I could see the progress the patients made each day. Patients I worked with on the first day could hardly get out of bed, and by the last day, the same patients could walk without any assistance at all. I helped explain bed exercises, got the patients out of bed, and helped them practice walking with crutches or walkers.

Any particular highlights?
I introduced myself to a patient while assisting before her surgery, and I was able to work with her during physical therapy. One day she surprised her doctor and I with a gift. She praised us and thanked both of us for everything we did for her and her family. Her entire family was there to thank us, and it made me realize that not only were we helping a patient, but we helped her whole family by giving her a surgery that made her more functional and able to do things with her family she had not done in years.

Did the trip affect your future goals or plans?
Yes. First, the entire application process and actually going on the trip made me more confident in myself and my capabilities. It also made me realize how important volunteering is, and how one person really does make a difference. I was just a student volunteer on the trip, but I know that I impacted the lives of many individuals. A doctor told me on the trip that he saw me with a smile every second of the day in the hospital, and I know it was because I truly enjoyed volunteering and helping other people. Because of these experiences, I want to do more volunteer work now, and continue volunteering even after I enter my profession.

I originally wanted to go into physical therapy. But after going on the trip, I realized I loved physical therapy, but that my real calling is to be a doctor. I think I want to be a pediatrician, but my experiences assisting the anesthesiologist were unforgettable, and that is another area I am interested in.

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