Physical therapist travels to serve

Six women orthopedic surgeons from across America will voluntarily perform up to 60 knee and hip replacements for poor women in Guatemala next month, and Donna Hopkins of Mooresville will be there to help.

Hopkins is a physical therapist and president of Body Mechaniques Inc., a Charlotte-based contract physical therapy services company.

She will help the doctors set up for surgery, she said, and will help patients walk again after surgery.

She will establish exercise programs for the women, show them the most comfortable sleeping positions and teach their families how to help them recuperate.

"It will be life-changing" for the women, who have no health insurance and would otherwise never get the help they need, Hopkins said.

Hopkins learned of the effort from Dr. Robyn Hakanson, a former team doctor of the WNBA Charlotte Sting who is now in private practice in Mount Airy. Hopkins once worked in a clinic with her.

Hakanson and the other doctors formed a nonprofit organization called Women Orthopaedist Global Outreach and embarked on their first mission, to Nepal, last September. They performed 45 knee replacements on 26 women in only 3 1/2 days.

The Nepal team included five doctors and 53 other medical volunteers. Hopkins couldn't make the trip because she was volunteering on the Flight of Honor effort that flew Carolinas World War II veterans from Charlotte /Douglas International Airport to Washington, D.C.

Hopkins said 30 sets of donated crutches, five walkers and five canes have been collected in the Lake Norman area and shipped to Guatemala in advance of the trip. The surgeons and 45 other volunteers will be there from Sept. 24 to Oct.1.

Guatemala will be the 81st country Hopkins has visited personally or professionally. She's volunteered on betterment projects everywhere from Ukraine to South Africa and helped form a Lake Norman branch of Women Orthopaedist Global Outreach.

"The reason I do it is I feel like I've had a very blessed life, and it's important to give back," Hopkins said in an interview.

"We're not just Americans," she said. "We're citizens of the world. If I had my way, we'd set all the guns down and meet face to face. If you've had a meal with somebody, it's hard to shoot them."