Jeffrey R. Carlson, MD
Orthopaedic & Spine Center (OSC)
Far too often, gently-used Durable Medical Equipment winds up in the trash or gathering dust for years in closets, attics and basements.
Yet those crutches, canes, walkers, splints, slings, boots, cervical collars, back braces, bone growth stimulators and more are in desperately short supply in many impoverished countries. That’s where Embrace, a Newport News-based nonprofit, aims to make a difference.
Launched in 2018 by a staff member at Orthopaedic & Spine Center, Embrace is an ongoing effort to collect, package and deliver supplies for Samaritan’s Purse, an international disaster relief organization. Through its World Medical Mission, Samaritan’s Purse partners with about 40 hospitals and clinics in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the South Pacific.
While federal health regulations prevent the reuse of such equipment in United States medical practices, Samaritan’s Purse can sanitize and repurpose items sometimes worth thousands of dollars each to help patients in need.
“This is a perfect extension of our purpose as orthopaedists,” says Dr. Jeffrey Carlson, a spine surgeon and President of OSC. “It is a huge waste of resources to not reuse these perfectly good items when so many people can’t afford them or don’t have access to them.”
Over the past two years, Embrace has gathered dozens of multiple types of durable orthopaedic equipment, making four deliveries to date to a Samaritan’s Purse office in North Wilkesboro, N.C.
Patients, medical practices, hospitals and nursing homes have donated to the cause. “It makes us as physicians feel good to do this, and it makes patients and their families feel good,” Dr. Carlson says. “It’s a fantastic win all around.”
In underdeveloped countries, patients might not receive basic equipment such as aluminum crutches as they heal. Instead, they must fashion crude crutches out of wood or rely on decades-old walking aids.
Americans, meanwhile, tend to reject secondhand items. They discard high-quality crutches after a few weeks – or, in some cases, days – or shove them into storage. Bone growth stimulators that Medicare values at nearly $4,500 apiece are gone after use for a single fracture or surgical procedure.
“We’re not even making a tiny dent in the expected life span of this equipment,” Dr. Carlson notes. “In addition, some countries never have even seen the designs and technologies that we really take for granted here.”
Embrace collects equipment at OSC’s Port Warwick office or does pickups on request. It also accepts medical and surgical items such as catheters, gloves, gowns, scalpels, surgical tape, suture and wound closure supplies, and needles and syringes, as well as financial contributions.
The nonprofit would like to partner with more medical centers, particularly nursing homes that might otherwise discard supplies after patients pass away, and perhaps a trucking company to handle additional deliveries.
“It’s really such a simple idea, but it’s one that can change a lot of lives for the better,” Dr. Carlson says. “It’s fantastic to feel like you can do something that helps orthopaedic patients all over the world.”
For more information on Embrace, contact Shannon Woods at OSC at (757) 596-1900, ext. 368, or visit osc-ortho.com. The collection site address is 250 Nat Turner Blvd, Newport News.