JoAnna M They Gave Me My Life Back

“People jumped through hoops for me. It just blew me away. They gave me my life back.”

As a busy real estate agent and the single mom of two daughters and a son, JoAnna Maietta is used to taking care of everyone else. But when it comes to taking care of her own health, “I’m pretty good at putting my head in the sand and saying, ‘I’ll get to it tomorrow,’” the Manalapan resident says.

David Chalnick, MD
David Chalnick, MD

For four years, JoAnna lived with excruciating pain in both of her knees. “There was a constant grinding, cracking, rubbing and burning,” she says. Showing houses to potential buyers became a serious challenge. “My clients would be on the second floor, and I’d still be climbing up the stairs from the basement,” JoAnna says. “It was embarrassing.”

Still, JoAnna tried to soldier on. She thought she was hiding her pain well. Then, one day, her youngest daughter looked up and said, “Mom, it’s painful to watch you walk.”

“That,” JoAnna says, “was hard to hear.”

JoAnna’s knee arthritis had become so bad that her knees began to bow, and she shrank 3 inches in height. Eventually, she had to stop working, losing her only source of income. “I didn’t have health insurance—I couldn’t afford it; I couldn’t walk without pain; and I was suffering in silence,” she says. “I felt helpless.”

A Life-Changing Initiative

Joel Fechisin, MD
Joel Fechisin, MD

JoAnna found a glimmer of hope in May 2023 when she shared her story with a cousin at a family barbecue. Her cousin sent JoAnna a few internet links, including one to Operation Walk USA, an organization that arranges free joint replacement surgeries for people in need. Operation Walk USA has connected more than 860 people without health insurance to orthopedic surgeons who can provide care—including surgeons at Seaview Orthopaedics in Freehold, a partner medical practice of RWJBarnabas Health, and Monmouth Medical Center (MMC) in Long Branch.

JoAnna reached out to the organization, and on September 25— one day before her 58th birthday—she received a phone call that would change her life. “It was Operation Walk USA, and they asked if I could be at Seaview the next day—on my birthday,” she says. “I saw that as a sign this was meant to be.”

Seaview and MMC had joined forces with Operation Walk USA to give two patients free joint replacement surgeries—and JoAnna would be one of them.

Joint replacement can be lifechanging, allowing patients to get back to their active lifestyles,” says David Chalnick, MD, Medical Director of MMC’s Joint Replacement Surgery Program and a board-certified, fellowship-trained orthopedic surgeon with Seaview. “Through Operation Walk USA, we wanted to help those without health insurance who otherwise would not have the opportunity to get that new lease on life.”

Arthur Mark, MD
Arthur Mark, MD

Doubling Down

While many patients supported by Operation Walk USA need single joint replacement surgery, JoAnna’s situation was unusual. “She had severe bilateral knee arthritis and could barely walk five feet without significant pain,” explains Arthur Mark, MD, a board-certified, fellowship-trained orthopedic surgeon who worked with JoAnna.

Dr. Mark asked JoAnna if she wanted to have both knees replaced in the same procedure, and JoAnna agreed.

On December 11, Dr. Mark performed the dual knee replacement surgeries at MMC pro bono and MMC offered the hospital’s services free of charge. Zimmer Biomet donated the implants for the surgery, and Seaview provided free physical therapy.

JoAnna was up and walking the day of her surgery and returned home three days later. “The experience at MMC was wonderful from start to finish—everyone from the valet parking guy all the way up to my doctors,” she says. “I had a room with a beautiful view of the beach. I didn’t want to go home!”

Today, JoAnna is regaining strength and looking forward to restarting her 23-year real estate career. She’s grateful for everyone who got her past a frustrating period. “Thanks to Operation Walk USA, that time is over,” she says. “A story like this is almost too good to be true,” she says. “People jumped through hoops for me. It just blew me away. They gave me my life back.”

Learn more about joint replacement surgery at RWJBarnabas Health.