Wow of the week: Free hip and knee replacements for those in need

David Chalker, 50, has excruciating pain in his hip. He’s an Army veteran and because of the pain, he had to leave his job as a machinist, which left him in a great deal of debt and unable to pay for health insurance. He, his wife, and his three daughters needed to move in with […]

David Chalker, 50, has excruciating pain in his hip. He’s an Army veteran and because of the pain, he had to leave his job as a machinist, which left him in a great deal of debt and unable to pay for health insurance. He, his wife, and his three daughters needed to move in with his in-laws as a result.

But in the coming days, he will get a hip replacement – for free.

Operation Walk USA, a nonprofit organization, has scheduled 120 patients for hip and knee replacements free of cost during the first week of December. The organization has put together a coalition of 85 orthopedic surgeons in 23 states who are volunteering for the cause to help those who can’t afford surgery on their own and don’t qualify for government assistance.

“I would have been in miserable pain for the next who knows how many years until I got enough money to get insurance,” said Chalker, who gave up his family’s health coverage last year when his rate spiked to more than $1800 monthly.

Chalker’s wife, Lisa, said she felt like she won the lottery when they learned he met requirements for surgery. “We have a chance at a new start, he has a chance to be pain-free, and we can get back on our feet,” she said.

Since 2010, Operation Walk USA has provided more than $13 million in services for nearly 500 patients. To qualify, patients must be U.S. citizens or permanent residents, fall within 100 to 200 percent of federal poverty guidelines and have no access to Medicaid, the government program that helps with medical costs for some people with limited income.

Pre- and post-operation services, like physical therapy, are free of charge. Implants are donated by device manufacturers, and doctors, nurses and technicians volunteer their time and skill.