International Missions

Walking Free History

Walking Free History

The Walking Free program was conceived in 2000, when Physicians for Peace was asked to assist with the establishment of Prosthetic and Orthotic care for those in need in Southeastern Turkey. The project was successful and Walking Free continued to grow and develop to provide high-quality education and training in Turkey, Dominican Republic, Philippines, Haiti, Jordan, and Guatemala. In addition to in-country education programs, Walking Free collaborated with the University of Don Bosco (UDB) to provide training to a group of technicians from the Dominican Republic.

Walking Free also became a leader in global education, in the rehabilitation field and supported the development of “Uniting Frontiers” conferences designed to empower and unify rehabilitation efforts in Latin American countries. We provided educational programs in Guatemala, Costa Rico, Panama, Ecuador, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic. Walking Free has also presented in numerous World Congresses including the United States, Canada, Germany, France, and India.

In 2015, a decision by Physicians for Peace to refocus its efforts toward primary care and surgical medicine created a partnership gap for the Walking Free project until the program found a new home with the Mission Gait Foundation.

Our Impact

From 2000 until 2024, the Walking Free program:

  • Conducted more than 50 in-country research, education, and training missions.
  • Provided five foreign prosthetists with three-month specialized academic and clinical training programs with Hanger Prosthetics & Orthotics Inc. and their school of prosthetics and orthotics in Newington, Connecticut.
  • Provided clinical and academic training for thousands of doctors, nurses, therapists, and practitioners in the project countries.
  • Enhanced or provided the ability for treatment of over 100,000 patients with prosthetic and orthotic needs.
  • Became an inaugural member of the Haitian Amputee Coalition and provided care to those injured in the January 2010 earthquake in Haiti.
  • Provided well over over $3 million of in-kind contributions for prosthetics and orthotics, rehabilitation, surgical supplies, and equipment.
  • Established a Distance Learning Program to train P&O Technicians in the Dominican Republic to receive Category II ISPO certification. Seven technicians graduated from the program in 2014.
  • Provided full time Physical Therapy services on a rotating basis for the Albert Schweitzer Hospital P&O Clinic.
  • In conjunction with the Catholic Church and MCV, a young boy from Uganda was brought to Richmond, VA –treated for cancer, and retrained to walk again with custom shoes and braces and return to school in his country.
  • A gentleman from the Solomon Islands (South Pacific) was brought to Richmond by his family. Mission Gait, through Walking Free, coordinated the prosthetic device he needed. Then he was provided the training needed to walk again, allowing him to return to his country and work.
  • Initiated conversations with the Ministry of Health in the Solomon Islands to establish a plan to bring prosthetic and orthotic care to the country. Memorandum of Understanding signed with the Ministry of Health committing the country to train technicians and build out a site for the lab.
  • Walking Free built-out a 40′ shipping container with a fully functioning Prosthetic & Orthotic Laboratory inside. The remaining space in the container was filled with donation supplies. The container was shipped from Virginia to the Solomon Islands arriving in July 2023, and is now fully functional at Kilu’ufi Hospital in Malaita.

While the number of missions completed and devices created can be quantified, it takes the stories to relay the impact – we have seen a child ride a bike again after losing a leg, celebrated a father holding his newborn for the first time after losing both arms in a work-related incident, and watched a school age child walk up the steps to return to the classroom.

Timeline

1989

Dr. Charles Horton Sr. founds Physicians for Peace to bring education and empowerment to medical professionals in underserved areas around the world.

2000

David A. Lawrence, MSPT, ATC, is part of a newly-created project established to bring prosthetic care to Turkey as part of Physicians for Peace. After which he writes the plan for what is now Walking Free.

2001

  • Walking Free launches and sends its first site-visit mission to Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.
  • Later that year Gail Grisetti, MPT, EdD. Joins the Walking Free team.

2002

The first Prosthetic & Orthotic center sponsored by Walking Free is opened at Dicle University in Diyarbakir, Turkey.

2003

Gil Meja, CPO joins the Walking Free team to head prosthetics efforts in Latin America.

2004

A second project site is established at Cukurova University in Adana, Turkey

2005

  • Walking Free expands and a program is established in the Philippines.
  • A Walking Free program is established in Haiti.
  • Walking Free received a short-term grant to work with the Royal Jordanian Medical Corps to train Iraqi technicians.

2006

Walking Free establishes a program in Guatemala

2008

Walking Free Jordan program is phased out as grant funding ends and a sustainable training system had been established.

2009

  • Walking Free Guatemala program is scaled back to a one-on-one assistantship program.
  • A project site is established in Santiago, Dominican Republic coordinating with Patronato Cibao de Rehabilitacion and Institute for Latin American Concern(ILAC)

2010

  • Walking Free responds to the earthquake in Haiti by becoming a founding member of the Haitian Amputee Coalition.
  • Walking Free also partners with the University Don Bosco in El Salvador to establish a distance learning program for Dominican prosthetic technicians.

2014

  • Typhoon Haiyan devastates the Philippines. Walking Free establishes 2 new clinics to help those affected by the typhoon.
  • In the Dominican Republic, 7 prosthetic techs graduate and are certified by the Don Bosco program.
  • Walking Free’s Turkey clinic becomes independent.
  • Walking Free’s Philippines clinic becomes independent.

2015

Walking Free searches for a new partner as Physicians for Peace refocuses its efforts.

2016

  • David and Carolyn Lawrence establish Mission Gait Foundation.
  • Gail Grisetti, MPT Ed.D joins the Mission Gait Board to be the Director of Walking Free.

2017

Walking Free is transferred to Mission Gait for the continuation of its mission and purpose.

2019

Hudson comes from Solomon Islands and Walking Free initiates its first new project with the Mission Gait Foundation.

2020

COVID-19 (global pandemic scare) halts all international efforts. But our sustainable programs continue to run, to the best of their ability, providing and producing for their countries.

2021

Communications resume progress with the Solomon Islands to establish a memorandum of understanding and launch Walking Free in the Solomon Islands – its 7th country and 10th project site!

2022

Walking Free builds its first Portable Prosthetic and Orthotic Laboratory built in a 40’ shipping container in Virginia – to be sent to the Solomon Islands. A fully replicable system that could streamline all future efforts.

2023

Walking Free’s saddest and yet very rewarding year.

  • Our dear friend and colleague Gail Grisetti, Director of Walking Free, loses her battle with cancer.
  • Months later her first project as Director is delivered to the Solomon Islands, dedicated in her name.
  • To end the year, Gil Mejia conducts our first in-country operational mission to the Solomon Islands.

INTERNATIONAL MISSIONS

Our programs wide reach and impact

Since its inception, Walking Free has completed over 100 in-country and local missions in 15 countries, as indicated on the map. Missions included conference presentations, clinic visits, patient treatment, and practitioner trainings. 

Walking Free Mission
International Presentations:
  • Turkey (2000-2005)
  • Dominican Republic (2004 – 2019)
  • Jordan (2005-2012)
  • Guatemala (2006)
  • Canada (2007)
  • Haiti (2008 – 2012)
  • Panama (2009)
  • United Kingdom (2009)
  • Germany (2010)
  • Costa Rica (2011)
  • India (2013)
  • Ecuador (2014)
  • France (2015)
In-Country Facility and Education Development Missions:
  • Turkey
  • Dominican Republic
  • Philippines
  • Haiti
  • Jordan
  • Guatemala
  • Solomon Islands