HomeCommunity NewsNonprofit Operation Walk’s Mission Perseveres

Nonprofit Operation Walk’s Mission Perseveres

Marilyn Dorr is with Jeri Ward during Operation Walks 2016 gala

Despite challenges like COVID-19 and the death of its founder Dr. Lawrence Dorr, the nonprofit organization Operation Walk has continued to strive toward its mission by providing joint replacement surgeries to those in need.
In fact, Operation Walk has performed hip and knee replacement surgeries for more than 17,000 individuals in 25 countries over the past 21 years and is going strong.
Retired nurse Jeri Ward described her early involvement with Dorr as the person who would make his ideas come to life. The two met at Centinela Hospital in Inglewood around 1980, where Ward worked as a nurse.
“I was there from the beginning of Operation Walk,” Ward told the Outlook Valley Sun.
After Dorr took a trip to Russia to perform a surgery, he thought the medical mission concept could serve many more people who could not afford surgeries or didn’t have access to them, especially senior citizens.
After mastering the joint replacement procedures and getting the right equipment, the nurse and doctor duo took their first trip to Cuba, and Operation Walk was founded in 1996.
Since then, Ward has assisted on about 75 missions and the nonprofit’s goal has never changed from “providing the gift of mobility through life-changing joint replacement surgeries at no cost for those in need in the U.S. and globally.”
Operation Walk has traveled to Cuba, China, Nepal, the Philippines, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Peru and El Salvador, to name a few.
The organization has 20 teams throughout the United States and Europe to expand the work. Each team will make one trip or mission per year, while the Los Angeles-based group will make two as the main team.
Each team is responsible for raising their own money and procuring their own supplies for each mission. A mission usually lasts up to a week and is filled with screening patients, surgery, recovery and some down time for the team to explore the county.
Ward has countless memories from her time on missions and remembers how kind and grateful people were to receive treatment.
“While we were in Nepal and setting to leave, one of the families stopped me and gave me the gift of an apple because they were so grateful,” said Ward. “The representation of that apple [meant a lot] because these people have nothing, no money and this was huge. I was bawling like a baby; I was so touched.”
As she became more involved with the organization, she wanted to take a break from missions to let new people have the same experiences.
“Let everybody else have that experience, because it’ll change their life forever,” Ward would say to herself.
Though medicine has progressed with technology in the United States, for the most part, Operation Walk has kept things the same when they go on missions, since other countries don’t have access to the same materials or practices.
“We try to bring as much advanced capability of joint replacement into these other countries as we can,” said Ward.
A big part of the nonprofit’s efforts includes education. Ward said that the organization created a fellowship program in recent years, where surgeons from other countries can come to the United States to learn about joint medicine.
“The people in Thailand came and spent six weeks with us at Keck Hospital of USC, and then they went back and opened their own joint replacement program,” said Ward.
Dorr’s wife, Marilyn Dorr, was also a part of the beginning stages of Operation Walk and remembers the day that her husband came up with the name. By using connections he had in the medical field, Lawrence Dorr was able to arrange the trips more easily, “and then they were hooked.” Now, the organization has more than 20 teams in the United States and Europe with countless volunteers.
Though the pandemic did hinder the organization from going on missions, they wasted no time and took one step at a time keeping up with COVID-19 protocols and testing constantly for the virus.
After countless years with Lawrence Dorr, Ward and Marilyn Dorr shouldered more responsibility after his sudden death in 2020. Ward currently serves as the director emeritus of the organization.
Ward said she will always remember Lawrence Dorr as a person who cared for everyone, even with his serious demeanor.
“He took care of people, and he really, truly cared,” said Ward, adding that he would remember patients’ hobbies and family names.
After her husband’s death, Marilyn Dorr became CFO for the nonprofit and carries on the legacy he started without a second thought. After being married for almost 55 years, she said she misses her husband every day, and is constantly reminded of how driven and caring he was in his life and his work.
“He was always working, but he also loved working. He never got tired of it,” said Marilyn Dorr. “He was just an amazing person.”
From the early age of 6, Lawrence Dorr wanted to be a doctor, “and that never changed,” said Marilyn Dorr.
With a wide range of experience, from being in emergency rooms and studying anesthesiology and then finding his true passion in joint and hip replacements, he was able to teach and execute surgery better than anyone, said Marilyn Dorr.
After he passed away, three other doctors stepped in to help carry on the work.
“They said, ‘we want to get this going, and we want people to know that we are still going to continue,’” she said.
Medical Director of Orthopedic Surgical Operations at USC-VHH Dr. Paul Gilbert was one of those people to step up after Lawerence Dorr’s death. The La Cañada Flintridge resident has been involved with Operation Walk since 2005, when he and his wife went on their first mission.
“It takes one trip, and then you are hooked,” said Gilbert. “It’s so rewarding to be able to go to other countries and do these surgeries and get people walking.”
Since his initial involvement, Gilbert has grown as a leader and recently became the Los Angeles Chapter president. He has 14 missions under his belt.
“We are always asking ourselves, ‘What would Dr. Dorr do?’” said Gilbert, who wants to make sure Operation Walk continues after he retires.
Another goal he has is to connect the 20 Operation Walk teams across the United States and Europe to work as one. He couldn’t continue the mission without the endless volunteers and donors, he added.
“Everybody’s got the same mission, everybody’s got the same idea to get the work done,” said Gilbert. “We are grateful for every little thing that everybody does, both on the trips and in helping us raise the money to do this.”
To learn more about Operation Walk, visit operationwalk.org.

Dr Paul Gilbert holds a patients hand in Antigua Guatemala in 2017 while on a medical mission for Operation Walk

First published in the February 15 print issue of the Outlook Valley Sun.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Most Popular

[bsa_pro_ad_space id=3]