Hard Work Rewarded by Smiles

by Merrill Ritter

This article was originally published in PCJH’s Fall 2022 Pinnacle, “Living Our Faith”

Orthopedic surgery was my life for well over 50 years. I was fortunate to help over 10,000 people with a total hip or total knee replacement. These operations offer a wonderful quality of life for so many that are suffering. I asked every patient the night before if I could pray for them. I am sure this helped me and I do believe the patient as well. We in the United States take so much for granted in that these operations are accessible for all who choose to investigate their possibility. This is not, however, possible for many in less fortunate countries. I was part of a group of surgeons who began a mission, Operation Walk, to help many of those that were less fortunate in Cuba, Guatemala and Nicaragua. The group that I was involved with was Operation Walk Mooresville. There were 75 people, 10 surgeons, 15 operating room nurses, five Recovery room nurses, 10-15 floor nurses, 10 Physical Therapist, a large group of ancillary personnel and translators and two men of God, preachers. We would perform over 120 hip or knee replacements in 3 1/2 days and take care of all the acute needs for the remainder of the week. During this time we educated the orthopedic surgeons in the various communities as to the continued care for these individuals.   

We were in continuous contact, post operative, with their surgeons as to various needs of the individuals. The deformities that we encountered were sometimes so severe that for the routine Orthopaedic Surgeon these were not treatable. However, this group of 10 surgeons were able to handle everything that was presented to them. Five or so years after the beginning of Operation Walk, we added a Foot and Ankle surgeon who was able to correct a club foot deformity in which the young patient’s foot was literally pointing backwards. Follow-up showed the young man to be ecstatic about his life with a normal appearing foot. God was definitely with Operation Walk and the patients who came from miles away for treatment. Many of the problems were quite severe, such as congenital problems, traumatic disruption of the joints, both one or two joints or even a hip and knee at the same time. Not only did the medical contingency of the group work to extremes but so did the pastors, who were there for the patients that needed help as well as the staff that were working so hard. We would perform 20 to 30 operations a day, which was not a difficult problem with the staff of people that had joined Operation Walk Morrisville.      

The hard work that all of the members of operation did was delightfully rewarded by the smiles and the tears, not from pain but from the excitement of being without pain. At that time I did not believe that I could experience such success again. However, these wonderful attributes are nothing compared to taking care of my wife of 60 years Nanette during the last months of her life. I was able to clean, dress and feed as necessary. We discussed death and the formalities of life after death. We talked with the pastors, the funeral home and the cemetery as well as our children and grandchildren prior to her death. I can’t even begin to tell anyone how rewarding this was at that time and now.  

 My biggest concern is that I was not home enough when I was working; however, my wife was there at all times for me, my children and the grandchildren. It was she that brought me back to Christ. Today I cannot fathom the thought of not being with Nanette. Her faith and mine carried us through her illness and to this day keeps me strong and blessed.

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