KEARNEY — Born with a minor hip-related birth defect, Alan Schoenberger has spent his 51 years in pain.
He was a linebacker on his high school football team. He wrestled, too. But all that time, and throughout his adult life as a cowboy, a cook and a construction worker, he has been in pain.
Now that pain is gone, thanks to hip replacement surgery on Dec. 23. It came from Operation Walk USA, a 9-year-old nonprofit nationwide program that provides hip and knee replacements to patients at zero cost.
The surgery was done by Dr. John Wright, orthopedic surgeon at CHI Health Good Samaritan.
When Schoenberger learned about the Operation Walk program, he was in tears.
“I’d been told many times that it was a birth defect, but I never tried to do anything about it. My parents couldn’t afford it,” said Schoenberger of Oakley, Kan., which is a three-hour drive southwest of Kearney.
He said his hip doesn’t properly fit into its socket, so he always had an uneven gait. He said he has “walked like a penguin” his entire life. Ten years ago, the constant stabbing and aching pain began interfering with his sleep. He seldom slept more than a few hours at one time.
This fall, finally, he made an appointment with Wright.
Schoenberger had no insurance, so he assumed he could work out a payment plan with the hospital to finance the $60,000 procedure. “I got tired of being in pain all the time,” he said.
Operation Walk USA provides surgery, hospitalization, and pre- and post-operative care at no cost to patients over age 18 who have no health insurance, including Medicare, and who are within or below 300 percent of federal poverty guidelines.
Wright knew about the program through colleagues in the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons. CHI Health Good Samaritan joined the program late last year.
“We are all passionate about living our mission. Caring for our community regardless of their ability to pay is what it means to be a Good Samaritan,” said hospital President Mike Schnieders.
Once on board, the hospital then searched for the right patient. Several were considered, but none fit the guidelines.
Then, thanks to Karen Obrecht, a registered nurse who plays a key role in Good Samaritan’s joint replacement program, Schoenberger was identified.
Wright said: “This was not accidental. It was her keen sense and passion that led us to him.”
Obrecht coordinated the program and brought all the key players on board, including Wright, hospitalists, anesthesiologists, the Good Sam business office, the pharmacy, the lab, radiology, departments involved with pre-op and post-op procedures.
“She made sure Mr. Schoenberger was a good fit. Then she coordinated all aspects of the surgery,” said Sharri Miner, practice manager of the CHI Health Good Samaritan Clinic — Orthopedic Surgery and Sports Medicine.
Good Samaritan is the only organization in Nebraska that partners with Operation Walk USA, according to the website. All aspects of treatment — surgery, hospitalization and pre- and post-operative care, including rehabilitation therapy if needed — are provided at no cost to qualified patients. Since its inception in 2011, the independent medical charitable organization has donated hip or knee replacement surgery to 802 Americans.
Wright said hip and knee replacements are “one of the miracles of modern medicine. They are expensive, but it is a big hurdle, especially with someone who is uninsured. The power of joint replacement surgery technology to profoundly impact a patient’s quality of life over a very short period of time never ceases to amaze me,” he said.
Schoenberger would heartily agree.
Now recovering at a relative’s home in Litchfield, he has one more checkup on Jan. 30, but he said his pain is gone. He can’t wait to play ball with his grandchildren and hunt again with his wife Connie.
After 51 years of pain, he said, “I feel terrific.”