The day’s first patient arrives at the hospital in El Salvador on horseback. She dismounts with a grimace, the pain in her hips radiating through her entire body. Despite the agony of the journey, she’s here to get a free surgery: a new hip.
This woman is just one of hundreds of patients Dr. Aaron Hofmann sees every year. The former vice chairman of International Orthopedics at the University of Utah opened the Utah chapter of Operation Walk in 2007. This nonprofit volunteer medical service organization provides free joint replacement surgeries for patients with disabling arthritis in developing countries, as well as here in Utah as part of Operation Walk USA.
“We’ve been to Cuba, Guatemala, and El Salvador,” Aaron says. “Twice a year for the past 10 years, we go to these countries to perform 100 free operations a year. We’ve operated on well over 1,000 people.”
The team is made up of doctors, nurses, and volunteers who dedicate their limited vacation days to helping others. “We’ve seen people who have suffered horrible accidents — run over by a tractor that crushed their pelvis. Sometimes, they’ve broken a bone, but it’s not set correctly,” he says. “So,
they live painfully for years in wheelchairs or use crutches. We want to restore their mobility.”
Unfortunately, the implants people need aren’t always available. To help overcome that challenge, Aaron designed hip and knee prostheses that are implanted around the world, and in 2009, he co-founded Total Joint Orthopedics, a Salt Lake City-based implant company. One implant for every 10 sold is donated to Operation Walk to keep the mission going.
“I’m always designing in the garage and making prototypes. Some have worked and some haven’t,” he says. “I work with hammers and saws and drills and power tools. I love doing things with my hands and building things.” Aaron holds 22 orthopedic device patents.
Starting the new Center for Precision Joint Replacement at Salt Lake Regional Medical Center, where he serves as the director, helps him continue
his endeavors. The center provides specialized surgical services to patients with hip, knee, and shoulder arthritis.
Aaron also founded the Hofmann Arthritis Institute where he performs local surgeries. “We continue to research, train, and operate,” he says. “We offer state-of-the-art, computer-assisted, and robotic surgeries.”
Although plans for international Operation Walk missions have been cancelled due to the coronavirus, Aaron hopes to return to El Salvador as soon as the borders reopen.
In the meantime, he’s keeping busy with his side job: designing and renovating local buildings. To date, he’s worked on The Spur Bar & Grill, 350 Main, a handful of dilapidated miners’ homes, and currently, a complete replication of the historic Star Hotel.
“I’ve always been an entrepreneur. Sometimes I have too many balls in the air and I drive myself crazy,” he says. “But most of the time I’m having fun.”