We had an absolutely amazing trip to Bolivia. This was the trip intended to check on our supplies, negotiate terms with the hospital, see patients in clinic, and reconnect with everyone down there that make our trips possible. All goals were achieved and exceeded.
The team consisted of Drs. Andy Aldridge, Phil Williams, Brian Balanoff and me. The small team made the trip much more relaxing, and we could be more flexible with our schedule. It also really helped the four of us to form meaningful and lasting relationships with those at the Susan Hou Clinic in Palacios and Dr. Douglas Villaroel (our red tape workaround master.) We also got to listen to and speak a lot of Spanish which will serve us well in November.
Here are a few of the highlights:
We visited and paid our respects to the Espinoza family. Unfortunately, Dr. Espinoza passed from covid while providing care to covid+ patients in July 2020. Dr. Espinoza was a pivotal member of our team in Bolivia. He was a general surgeon who worked in Santa Cruz, but often came out to Portachuelo to work with us. If any complications arose with our patients after we left the country, he would take care of them. We had a very special breakfast with his large family at their home in Santa Cruz and were able to reminisce and share stories. We all feel so fortunate to have known and worked with Dr. Oscar Espinoza.
We spent time at the hospital in Portachuelo. This is where we perform our surgeries and where the patients stay before and after surgery. The big news from this trip was that our equipment was all in functioning condition. I negotiated terms with this group for November and was assured prices would remain the same as in 2019. Apparently, inflation has not hit Bolivia like it has the states.
We also had the pleasure of visiting Dr. Vargas at his home in Portachuelo. Dr. Vargas is the main doctor at the clinic in Palacios. He helps us select and prepare our surgical candidates before we arrive.
My favorite part of the trip was the two days and a night at the Susan Hou Clinic in Palacios. We saw upwards of 80 patients in the clinic, all hoping to have surgery with us in November. We narrowed the list down to 50ish and now we are figuring out the most dire cases and what we can actually accomplish in November. People have been waiting a long time to see us so there were many urgent needs. We had the pleasure of the company of the Bolivian clinic coordinator, Gabriela, and her husband, Marco. While at the clinic we went on a night walk, saw the stars of the Southern Hemisphere (hello Southern Cross!) and ziplined over the rushing river that patients must cross to make it to the clinic from their homes since its bridge washed out. We also visited the newly built library (book donation thanks to NAVMC) and the kids treated us to food and drink.
Our last night we had a lovely dinner with Dr. Douglas Villaroel. He is the person responsible for keeping us legal in Bolivia. He takes care of our licensure, credentialing, and helps us to bring all the equipment we need into Bolivia, not an easy feat. He reiterated his continued support for our cause and has already asked for a list of equipment I want to bring in so he can start working on the red tape so common in Bolivia.
Dr. Douglas also spoke with us about the washed-out bridge and how it is impacting the community and their access to the clinic. More to come on that. I think it might be a great fundraising opportunity for NAVMC.
Those are the highlights of our trip. I cannot explain how wonderful it felt to be back in Bolivia and to see all our friends. It has been over 4 years! We took the perfect small group to re-form strong bonds with everyone who helps us do what we do. With a full team in November, I know we will be able to help a lot of Bolivians and make you all proud. It’s great to get NAVMC back on the ground, accomplishing so much and realizing our mission statement.
Thanks for everyone’s support!