This year was one of the most successful trips to date for Aaron Hofmann and his team of surgeons in El Salvador.
For five years now, Hofmann has traveled to the country for Operation Walk, performing life-altering operations, literally freeing patients from a lifetime of pain. Hofmann, a Salt Lake City surgeon who has performed thousands of surgeries closer to home, says it is not just a service, but a responsibility.
"Every time we do one of these trips, we realize we get much more back than we give," he said.
Operation Walk Utah was able to provide free surgeries to 61 Salvadorans, eclipsing its goal of 50 this year. Still, more than 3,000 have applied for the service and continue to wait for help. This is why, according to consultant Mandi Trowbridge, the goal of the group remains not just to offer free joint replacement, but also to help educate local orthopedic surgeons, physical therapists and other health-care professionals on the proper techniques for treating these debilitating diseases.
She has seen firsthand what Hofmann has been able to accomplish.
"These stories are remarkable," Trowbridge said. "You see these patients come into the screening in a wheelchair and two days later you're watching them walk out. It's just unbelievable. A lot of these stories are about people with families. These surgeries make sure they function in their lives and function in their communities again."
Hofmann says he will continue to offer his services as long as he is able. The impact on his life has been dramatic.
"It's literally a tearjerker," he said. "You see patients who have been waiting with their ailments for 30 years to have something done, but they just don't have access to modern medical miracles like a joint replacement surgery."
While Hofmann will continue to visit El Salvador and help individuals and families get back on their feet, Operation Walk Utah also offers its services in the Beehive State. Twice a year, Hofmann helps provide free care to Utahns, with the next event scheduled Dec. 1. The needs in El Salvador remain drastic, but a struggling economy at home also has limited the ability of many people in the state to afford adequate health care.
Operation Walk Utah has, so far, performed nearly 50 free surgeries in Utah. Just as in El Salvador, the wait list is extensive, with more than 500 applying and in need of help.
Every dollar Operation Walk Utah has taken in through donations has gone to services within the program. In fact, the majority of the cost of the program has come from Hofmann and his team. He and his medical volunteers pay more than $200,000 in cash out-of-pocket expense and time for each trip overseas, and that cost continues to rise.
At a glance
Operation Walk Utah has performed more than 300 free surgeries in El Salvador over the past five years.
Aaron Hofmann is the founder of the Hofmann Arthritis Institute, and the doctor has performed thousands of life-altering surgeries in Utah. He holds 19 patents on orthopedic devices.
Those looking to donate to the cause or apply for future surgeries can visit www.operationwalkutah.org.