Hero Central: Dr. Jennifer Cook

10:29 PM, Dec 17, 2010   |    comments
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New Port Richey, Florida -- A New Port Richey Orthopedic Surgeon is utililizing her skills to help others who have lost their ability to walk. This University of Michigan graduate help start a program that provides free medical assistance to people who live in poor countries.

Dr. Jennifer Cook is one of five women who founded "Women Orthopedist Global Outreach", an organization that provides medical assistance around the world.

"We actually go to third world countries and we do joint replacement surgeries for free over there," Cook said.

This past September, Cook and a team of surgeons completed their inaugural mission in Kathmandu, Nepal.

"The patients came from all over Nepal to have the surgeries done. They actually recruited the patients before we went there to do the surgeries and some patients travel for as much as three hours to come for us to do the surgeries," the orthopedic surgeon said.

What they have is shockingly meager. Cook and the team brought back photos of the host hospital. Mold coats the walls, and the one anesthesia machine is antiquated. Recovering patients are corralled into two large rooms, one for men and one for women. Patients have no pillows or blankets. Family members must bring in food and medicine.

"It made Community Hospital look like the Ritz Carlton," she said.

Nepal is one of the poorest countries in the world and often people there go without medical care for most of their lives and, after hearing this, Cook wanted to do something to help.

"It probably was one of the most meaningful experiences that I have had in my life to date, just seeing the difference you could make in these patients lives with one hour of surgery that it takes to do a knee replacement surgery," Cook said.

Dr. Cook and her team performed 44 knee replacement surgeries and she says they wouldn't have been able to accomplish this feat without the help from people in the New Port Richey community.

"The community has been 100 percent supportive of this project. It really has been so inspiring to see so many people getting behind me," Cook said.

It was 2006. Jennifer Cook, the youngest at the table, had just started her job at the Florida Joint Replacement and Sports Medicine Center in New Port Richey. She missed the volunteering she got to do in high school and college.

"I'd had to put part of my life on hold," recalled Cook, now 35. "I felt like I could be my own person again."

Eleven volunteers from New Port Richey accompanied Cook on the trip and assisted the physicians while in Nepal. The doctor and her team plan to continue their missions next year.

Dr. Cook is a member of the American Association of Hip and Knee Surgeons and was honored with the First Humanitarian Award for her work to restore mobility and reduce the burden of disability through total joint reconstructions for her patients in New Port Richey and patients suffering from knee arthritis in under-served global communities.

To learn more about WOGO, visit www.wogo.org.

If you would like to nominate someone to be a hero, please contact me at: mbeal@wtsp.com.

Melvin Beal, 10 News

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