In early December, 61-year-old Jeanette Winfield received an early Christmas present — a chance to walk without pain.
For nine months, her hip joint had worn away until the bones were grinding together.
Dr. Robert Easton changed all that — at no charge — giving the uninsured home healthworker a new artificial hip.
“It was a miracle to me,” Winfield said.
For four years, Easton, an orthopedist, has given away hip and knee replacements in South American countries through Operation Walk, a charity that teams with artificial joint companies to supply operations to the uninsured and under-insured.
A hip replacement specialist at Baton Rouge Orthopaedic Clinic, Easton, 39, plans to create an Operation Walk chapter in Louisiana and hopes Winfield’s surgery is a stepping stone to starting the charity.
“Especially with hip and knee replacements, you can see some people who are very down on their luck,” Easton said. “Some people almost have crippling arthritis, and they come in with a wheelchair. You do a hip or knee replacement on them, and two weeks later, they are walking around with a smile on their face. That’s a million bucks to me.”
Since 2011, Easton has traveled yearly to South America to perform dozens of free hip and knee transplants with a crew of medical professionals from the Denver chapter of Operation Walk.
During these medical missions in Guatemala and Honduras, Easton performs five or six surgeries a day for three days. As a group, they work on 50 to 60 patients.
“It’s a big undertaking, but it’s a lot of fun,” he said.
Many of the South American patients suffer from rheumatoid arthritis and have little access to medical help. Their hip and knee pain can severely limit their lives.
“They don’t have the medicine and drugs we have in the United States, so you can see a 25-year-old with crippling rheumatoid arthritis that can barely walk,” Easton said.
Starting a local Operation Walk chapter has been a goal of Easton’s since he began practicing in 2011. He knows many uninsured and underinsured patients need a joint replacement but can’t afford the cost. The average hip replacement costs $30,124, according to Blue Cross Blue Shield.
Easton is eager to give back to the Baton Rouge community. As a Texas high school gymnast and cheerleader, he was invited by a friend to attend an LSU football game in Tiger Stadium. The energy and excitement led Easton to immediately decide to attend LSU, forfeiting a scholarship to Southern Methodist University.
In college, he was a cheerleader for three years and then, in his final years of studying, worked full time at Our Lady of the Lake. He put in 40 hours on weekends, working 12- and 16-hour shifts cleaning operating rooms, mopping floors and helping patients.
“I was working mostly during the night … so I did a little bit of everything,” he said.
The job enabled Easton to pay for school, and his experiences encouraged him to become a doctor.
A local Operation Walk chapter could raise enough money to provide many more joint replacements, he says. So far, the Our Lady of the Lake Medical Center and all the professionals involved have donated their time “in the blink of an eye,” he said.
“Hopefully next year … we have some funds where we can say we can take care of these and help as many people as possible,” he said.
Last month, when Winfield learned she could receive a new hip free of charge, she thanked God.
“The phone call came to me,” she said. “I didn’t go to it. All I could do was cry.”
Easton wants to make many others as happy as Winfield.
“That’s the ultimate thing we do as physicians, and I think a lot of times that gets lost in the shuffle of day-to-day activity,” Easton said. “It truly comes to light when you do something just out of the kindness of your heart.”