Tri Rivers surgeon crosses borders for greater cause

8/13/2018

For the past decade, this Tri Rivers orthopedic hip and knee surgeon has gone the extra mile.

On Saturday, Aug. 18, Michael W. Weiss, MD, will make his trek back to Antigua, Guatemala, where it all began for Operation Walk Pittsburgh (OWP), a nonprofit organization that provides free orthopedic surgeries to patients in developing Central American countries.

Dr. Weiss and Anthony M. DiGioia, MD, who formed OWP in 2008, serve as co-medical directors of the volunteer medical team. Dr. Weiss has accompanied Dr. DiGioia on every OWP trip since the inaugural visit to Antigua in 2009. Joining Dr. Weiss on this year’s trip will be fellow Tri Rivers orthopedic surgeon Thomas S. Muzzonigro, MD, and Duane Chess, PA-C.

Dr. Weiss feels there’s a reason why OWP keeps returning to Antigua – this is the organization’s fourth trip there.

“The hospital there really takes care of the people in the area,” he said. “It gives back to the community, and we get to see that process all the way through.”

During the past decade, the OWP team has performed 432 surgeries on 353 patients on its eight international mission trips to Cuba, Guatemala, Panama and Honduras. Between 50 and 70 volunteers make the annual journey to assist the physicians.

“For one who does not have access to our level of medical care, this is a game-changer,” Dr. Weiss said. “[Patients] go back to a normal life. We give people back the ability to get on with their lives, so they can take care of their loved ones.”

For Drs. Weiss and Muzzonigro, the annual trip has been a family affair. Dr. Weiss’ daughter Katie is a nurse educator and proud OWP team leader, and Dr. Muzzonigro’s son, Thomas Jr., has traveled as a volunteer.

OWP is one of 17 Operation Walk teams throughout the U.S., Canada and Ireland. These organizations have provided free care and surgery to thousands of patients worldwide. The Pittsburgh chapter of Operation Walk was one of the first teams to perform no-cost hip and knee replacements for U.S. patients in need.

Prior to each trip, OWP volunteers work tirelessly to raise funds and coordinate the logistics of obtaining and shipping the necessary medical supplies to the country. These volunteers also assist patients with initial recovery and train local medical professionals on follow-up care.

In February, Drs. Weiss and DiGioia received the 2017 Physician Volunteer Award from the Allegheny County Medical Society Foundation. The award is given to physicians to recognize the donation of time or talents for charitable, clinical, educational or community service activities, domestically or internationally. Though humbled by the honor, that’s not why these physicians do what they do.

“Each year, we find that the volunteers get just as much out of the experience as the patients and families in each of the countries we serve,” Dr. Weiss said. “I never expected to feel so much love and happiness from those we have been able to help, and seeing the appreciation and love on the faces of our volunteers is amazing.

 “We feel honored to do this work.”

 For more information or to get involved with OWP, visit operationwalkpgh.org.