Published on November 29, 2014

Medical missionary will get a free hip-replacement surgery in Jacksonville as part of Operation Walk USA

By Charlie Patton 

About five years ago, Martin Williams, a medical missionary who works as a physician in the jungle in Honduras, began feeling pain in his left hip. That was a major problem for a man who serves a mountainous 1,000-square-mile area with more than 15,000 people living in 31 villages in the Cangrejal River Cove.

“Because of what we do, there is a good bit of activity,” Williams said. “Some villages can only be accessed by motorcycle. Some can only be reached by walking. I do lots of walking.”

All that walking and riding his motorcycle didn’t help his hip pain. Three years ago he had an X-ray taken that revealed significant deterioration of his left hip.

“I realized I had a real problem,” Williams said. “It was little bit more than I could treat with just Aleve.”

But Williams, who moved with his family to Honduras 20 years ago so they could work as missionaries, didn’t have any insurance to pay for hip-replacement surgery. He did, however, know Earl Miller, a physician’s assistant from Jacksonville who was a regular volunteer at the Dyer Rural Hospital, where Williams works.

Williams showed Miller his X-ray. Miller, who works as part of orthopedic surgeon Gavan Duffy’s team at Southeast Orthopedic Specialists, showed Duffy the X-ray. Duffy knew about Williams’ work, not just through Miller but through Duffy’s wife and daughter, who had both spent time volunteering at Williams’ clinic.

An idea presented itself. A year ago, Duffy was one of four orthopedic surgeons who, in partnership with St. Vincent’s HealthCare, provided free hip- and knee-replacement surgeries as part of Operation Walk USA, which annually provides the surgeries for free to patients who cannot afford them.

Duffy, who planned to participate in Operation Walk USA again this year, called Williams “a perfect candidate for Operation Walk. I was excited to be able to help him. … It’s nice to be able to give back.”

On Monday, Williams’ hip-replacement surgery will be the first of two Operation Walk surgeries Duffy will do at St. Vincent’s Medical Center Southside. Meanwhile, Richard Grimsley will do an Operation Walk surgery at St. Vincent’s Medical Center Riverside, and Max Lincoln will do one at St. Vincent’s Medical Center Clay.

For the 52-year-old Williams, who will spend a few weeks rehabbing while staying in Jacksonville with Miller and Miller’s wife, Dawn, the surgery’s “timing was just perfect.”

“There had been an exponential decline in my mobility,” he said. “… We’re hoping to begin delivering babies and doing surgeries this year. To have this happen now is an incredible blessing.”

Charlie Patton: (904) 359-4413