New Mobility for 3 Patients Thanks to Free Surgery

December 26, 2023
Watch the video as BayCare home health physical therapist Glenn Saldanha visits knee replacement patient Kristine Martin at her home.

BayCare and Operation Walk USA supports people in need

Three local residents without insurance received a wonderful holiday gift: They will start 2024 with a new knee or hip.

BayCare’s orthopedics teams partnered with the Clearwater Free Clinic, St. Pete Free Clinic and Operation Walk USA to provide the residents with free joint replacement surgeries. The surgeries were performed by orthopedic surgeons Christopher Grayson, Kurt Hirshorn and David Johnson – who donated their service – at St. Petersburg’s St. Anthony’s Hospital on Dec. 7 and 9. Operation Walk USA is a nationwide effort to help patients in need receive potentially life-changing joint replacement surgery. All three of the patients were diagnosed with osteoarthritis. 

BayCare worked with the clinics to obtain a list of patients consistently in need of care for joint pain.

“We assessed the needs of patients and looked at X-rays and medical records to find patients needing joint replacements,” said Gina Rowland, director of BayCare’s orthopedics service line. Candidates for the free surgeries had to fall under specific federal government income guidelines and had to be uninsured. 

Three people in surgical gear standing over an operating room table. The patient is covered with a surgical awning with the back of her head in the photo. A large light is overhead.
St. Anthony's orthopedics surgical team performs knee replacement surgery on Clearwater resident Kristine Martin.

Kristine Martin, 53, of Clearwater had her left knee replaced by Dr. Grayson on Dec. 9. She was in an accident in 2020 when a vehicle struck her while she was on a motorcycle. “My knee was crushed,” Martin said.

Her treatment over the past several years at the Clearwater Free Clinic included cortisone shots, wraps, braces and ointments. “I got cortisone after cortisone shot but my knee still wasn’t working right. My doctor at the clinic said I needed a knee replacement.”

Martin does not have health insurance. “I told them (the clinic) I couldn’t afford it (a knee replacement).”

The clinic helped her apply to Operation Walk USA in August. She soon learned that St. Anthony’s Hospital and BayCare would do the surgery.

Martin said she was happy, but skeptical, at first. “It sounded too good to be true.” But she was assured that her needed surgery was going to happen. “I was told, ‘They picked your story. The surgery is free. You don’t have to worry about a thing.’ I said, ‘Oh my God, Oh my God, thank you.’”

Besides the cost of the surgeries, BayCare also covered the cost of pre and postsurgery services.  “We are covering everything from beginning to end in these patients’ surgical journeys,” Rowland said.

The work with Operation Walk USA is just one example of BayCare’s long-standing commitment to supporting the region’s health. Every year, BayCare spends roughly 10 percent of its revenue in support of charity care, uninsured care and community services. In 2022, the value of that Community Benefit was $492 million for West Central Florida, including Hillsborough, Pasco, Pinellas and Polk counties.

For these three patients, BayCare’s commitment includes: 

  • Presurgery – surgeon office appointments, preadmission testing (labs, imaging) and presurgery education with an orthopedic nurse navigator
  • Surgery at St. Anthony’s Hospital – medical services of surgeons, anesthesiologists, hospitalists (hospital-based doctors), an orthopedic nurse navigator, physical therapy staff. Personnel also volunteered their time on Saturday, Dec. 9 to perform two surgeries.
  • Postsurgery at St. Anthony’s Hospital – included overnight stay, physical therapy evaluations, medicine prescriptions and an initial distribution of durable medical equipment such as walkers
  • Postsurgery at home – includes BayCare Home Care home health visits with physical therapy, surgeon office appointments, transportation to appointments, medical refills

Rowland said two priorities had to unite to make a program like Operation Walk USA successful. 

“One is the recognition that there is a need in our community to help others in this situation. The second is the desire to help,” Rowland said. “We appreciate the support and enthusiasm of our community partners, orthopedic surgeons, physicians and the leadership and staff of St. Anthony’s Hospital to help change these patients’ lives.”