‘The Gift of Mobility’: Salem orthopedic surgeon changes lives through non-profit

Headed by women, the group continues to change lives around the world through free full knee replacement surgeries

SALEM, Va. – On most days you can find Dr. Robyn Hakanson performing surgery at LewisGale Medical Center in Salem.

Hakanson has been an orthopedic surgeon for over 20 years – a field that’s predominantly filled with men.

“When you look at orthopedic surgery, about 6% of practicing orthopedic surgeons are women. So we’re a distinct minority in our field,” Hakanson said.

In 2006, Hakanson met with four other female orthopedic surgeons on a professional panel focused on the impact of arthritis on women, and what came out of the meeting would end up changing lives around the world.

The group founded the Women Orthopaedist Global Outreach non-profit organization, which is run entirely by females and focuses on providing full knee replacement surgeries in the developing world – for free.

“At least if you live in America you have a chance,” Hakanson said. “You don’t have a chance ever unless somebody like me goes there and brings this kind of surgery. So that’s what my colleagues and I do.”

Over the last fifteen years, the group has performed surgeries in five countries: Nepal, Guatemala (twice), Tanzania, Guyana, and the Republic of the Congo.

During their time in the Republic of the Congo, the team helped people while working inside former NBA star Dikembe Mutombo’s hospital, named after his mother.

The organization’s latest mission was going back to Guatemala. The team had already completed some surgeries back in 2010 during the organization’s second mission trip.

“We did 40 knee replacements and these were some very … very happy people. We went to an elementary school and we spent two complete days there and got new shoes for all of the kids who were in this school,” Hakanson said.

Whenever the organization plans a trip, Hakanson said they have to send about 9,000 pounds of equipment to the country to be ready. Cargo issues would have the team panicking days before some trips, but it always worked out – and in only a week.

“It’s all within a week. We do all of this within a week,” Hakanson said.

What started with five surgeons has now grown to nine ... still entirely all women.

About the Author

Connor Dietrich joined the 10 News team in June 2022. Originally from Castle Rock, Colorado, he's ready to step away from the Rockies and step into the Blue Ridge scenery.

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