Steamboat surgeon repairs knees, hips for nonprofit in Panama |

Steamboat surgeon repairs knees, hips for nonprofit in Panama

Mike Lawrence

— Dr. Bryan Bomberg said the 22-year-old Panamanian woman he met earlier this month hadn't walked in 10 years because of debilitating rheumatoid arthritis that he said is widely untreated in the Central American country.

Bomberg was part of a medical team that gave the woman two hip replacements, during a weeklong trip to Panama with Operation Walk Denver. That's the Colorado branch of a global nonprofit organization that gives free surgical treatments to patients in developing countries. Bomberg said he left Steamboat Springs on Nov. 11 and returned Nov. 17.

He traveled with a team of about 60 medical professionals that included surgeons, anesthesiologists, physical therapists and more. The group performed 70 hip or knee surgeries in four days, working on 54 patients.

Bomberg recalled the 22-year-old woman Monday, sitting in his office at Steamboat Ortho­paedic Associates. He's been a local orthopedic surgeon for about 17 years, replacing or repairing joints for patients including scores of athletes, some with international recognition.

The Panama woman was stunned by her new hips.

Bomberg said she asked him, "How long do I get to keep these?"

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He told her the new hips were hers forever.

"A big smile broke out across her face," Bomberg said. "I think she had kind of resigned herself to that lot in life."

Bomberg's trip changed that lot.

"The therapist got her up the next day walking," Bomberg said.

Bomberg worked at a hospital in Panama City, the capital, where he said the First and Third Worlds are clearly visible and sometimes not far apart. His patients primarily came from the latter, he said, from the city's ghettos and slums.

"It's an eye-opener to see what people live with," Bomberg said. "Yes, there are some problems with our health care system, but pretty much everybody who needs a knee or a hip can have one."

Not so in some parts of Panama City. Flipping through photos on his phone Monday, Bomberg showed striking photos of bowed legs and knocked knees, wondering aloud about the pain felt by people who walk with such conditions.

"They have some of the most severe deformities that you'll ever see," he said. "Things you don't see here."

The surgeries they performed in Panama could cost $40,000 each in the United States, Bomberg said. Donations completely funded the Operation Walk trip.

Bomberg paused before stating a lasting memory from the experience.

"Just being hugged by patients," he said, after reflecting. "They were so happy."

— To reach Mike Lawrence, call 871-4233 or e-mail

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