By: Duane Blankenship | Category: Health & Fitness | Issue: January 2016
Dr. Rodney Plaster and Dr. Sarat Kunapuli perform a knee replacement on patient in El Salvador.
Two Eastern Oklahoma Orthopedic Center surgeons traveled to Santa Tecla, El Salvador in November to become a part of three surgical teams that operated for four-and-a-half days, performing 72 free, life-changing hip and knee replacements to disabled individuals residing in the Central American country. Medical professionals who work in operating rooms with the surgeons on a daily basis complemented the 40-man team that included surgeons, internal medicine doctors, recovery room nurses, physical therapists and trained volunteers. Surgical procedures were provided at no cost to the recipients. Additional medical personnel from Oklahoma Surgical Hospital and Saint Francis Hospital also represented Tulsa on the trip.
The surgical team included Dr. Rodney Plaster, Kara Starkman-Plaster, PA-C, and Dr. Sarat Kunapuli of Eastern Oklahoma Orthopedic Center, plus Utah orthopedic surgeon Dr. Aaron Hofmann of Operation Walk Utah. All time, equipment, materials and medications for the project were donated through the Operation Walk Utah organization. Operation Walk is a nonprofit, volunteer medical services organization dedicated to improving the lives of those suffering from painful and debilitating joint diseases who have no other treatment options.
The group of surgeons assembled for this trip are all “A-Team” rated. “We had specialists from across the United States who are regarded as the best in the field,” said Dr. Plaster. “We are the surgical specialists who frequently get referred for really tough procedures requiring total joint reconstruction on patients who have been handicapped by a hip or knee disability for years.” Local doctors in El Salvador provided X-rays to help determine patients who would benefit most from a joint replacement by one of the special surgical teams sent to El Salvador. “I was blessed by the trip to El Salvador to help so many deserving patients regain their mobility, knowing that our surgical skills have changed their lives.” Dr. Plaster considers it an honor to be able to donate his time and abilities to such a worthy cause. Dr. Kunapuli agreed: “This was my first year to make the trip to El Salvador and I, too, considered it an honor to donate my time and surgical skills to such a caring organization. I learned a lot myself.” Dr. Plaster and his wife, Kara, have traveled to El Salvador each year since 2009.
The people treated in El Salvador do not have cars. They must walk everywhere they go, in a very mountainous area. When they are afflicted with knee or hip ailments, they are – literally – shut down. They are confronted with the reality that they can no longer work and can no longer provide for their families. The patients give a tremendous “thank you” to the doctors and support personnel from Tulsa and other areas who make this annual pilgrimage to El Salvador to provide life-saving surgical procedures at no cost to patients who have so little.
Blankenship graduated from the University of Oklahoma and has enjoyed a lifetime career in advertising. He started his own advertising business in 1993 and enjoys creating graphic art and writing. Hobbies include hunting, fishing and pencil drawings. Duane and his wife, Janice, have been married over 50 years and are active in their church and community. He has been a contributing writer for Value News/Values Magazine since 2005.
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