Salena Haselip, 64, has always had pain. As a baby she didn’t crawl and although she learned to walk, she had trouble running.
“I had a hard time in PE,” she recalled. “For as far back as I can remember something always hurt. In PE, when I had to sit in school. I had pain all my life.”
Now the pain is gone, she said, after receiving a new hip from orthopaedic surgeons Jonathan Keeve and Kirk Reichard in December through Operation Walk USA, a medical humanitarian organization that helps provide free joint replacements for some patients who don’t qualify for government assistance programs and can’t afford surgery.
“Joint replacement is one of the most successful medical interventions we do,” Keeve said. “It’s better than heart surgery, in terms of being able to restore people to functional life, but it’s very expensive.”
Haselip, who lives on disability and doesn’t have medical coverage, said her doctor recommended she get a joint replacement years ago but she couldn’t afford the thousands needed to pay for surgery.
Holly Payne, coordinator of the total joint restoration center at Valley Hospital, where Haselip’s surgery was performed, said the typical cost of a joint replacement is $25,000.
To keep the surgery free for Haselip, Keeve, Valley Hospital and numerous other medical professionals donated services, from anesthesia, radiology, pharmacy, pre-operative care and surgery, to nursing, post-operative care, physical therapy and follow-up after discharge with a primary care physician and home health agency.
“It’s a multitude of people involved,” said Payne, noting it took three months to coordinate the care provided. “All services for her were donated. It’s a big, huge thing to do this and get everybody on board.”
“If people don’t have resources or access there isn’t another place they can go to have it done,” Keeve said. “It seemed like the right thing to do. I think everybody deserves a chance to walk in little or no pain if they can.”
Haselip said the surgery was life changing.
“The hip had been getting worse and worse all my life,” she said, recalling how her pain during childhood was made worse by an abusive father who didn’t believe in taking her to the doctor.
By her 20s she could still walk but couldn’t stay on her feet for long periods of time. By her 30s she had to quit waitressing because even one weekly shift was too painful. Eventually she needed a crutch and by her late 50s she was using a walker.
“The last four years I’ve been in a wheelchair,” she said. “The minute I stood up the pain would start. By the time I walked five feet it would be a 10. I couldn’t sleep at night. I was in pain all night long.”
After writing to Operation Walk USA about four years ago, Haselip said the organization refered her to surgeons in both Seattle and Portland, but she wasn’t accepted as a patient because she was an Idaho resident.
When Keeve heard about the program in 2013, he wanted to help and worked with Valley Hospital to provide the joint replacement for Haselip during the program’s December timeframe, during which 230 joint replacements were performed for free nationally.
“The first time I went to Dr. Keeve I was shocked,” said Haselip, describing the X-ray of her right hip. “Where there should be a hip and bone it looked like shredded bone. It looked like asparagus.”
“She had severe arthritis, complete destruction of her hip joint,” Keeve said. “Obviously this has been plaguing her for a long time. On scale of one to 10, it was a 14. There are very few people that could persevere and continue to walk or move with a joint like that.”
Keeve said joint replacement is a good option for people whose activity and mobility is significantly restricted because of arthritis pain and stiffness. They may have trouble walking with their grandchildren or difficulty sleeping, for example.
“It’s not just based on an X-ray. It’s also based on function,” he said, noting patients who don’t get enough relief from exercise, weight-loss or anti-inflammatory medication are usually pain-free after recovering from a joint replacement.
“Their pain is significantly reduced if not eliminated. They’re able to participate in most daily activities without problems. They get an active life back,” said Keeve, noting the worse the joint gets before surgery, the longer recovery takes.
For Haselip, the joint degeneration was so advanced it may take months to rebuild her strength and stamina.
“I walk like a duck because the muscles haven’t gotten strong enough yet. It can take a long time but I don’t care. The fact is, I don’t have pain,” she said, describing how she can do housework she hasn’t been able to do for years, like laundry, cooking and cleaning.
She can also walk short distances unassisted or with a cane.
“Surgery changed my life from night to day,” she said. “It’s like I died and went to heaven. I’m so happy. We’ve been through a lot of things. Those things don’t matter when you don’t have pain.”