Vivian Joffré, missioner and guest blogger for the 2014 General Surgery Mission Trip I am Vivian Joffré, a first time missioner with Solidarity Bridge. I was born and raised in Cochabamba, but have lived in Chicago for the last thirteen years. When I found out about the work of SB, and that they mostly serve in Bolivia, I felt it was meant to be. This was my turn to give back to the Bolivian community. It is with great honor that I share with you bits and pieces of what is planned to be an epic and rewarding week.

Day 1: Welcome to Cochabamba!!! 

José Choque standing next to the portable tower he built with his brother.

After many hours of travel, many suitcases to check-in and pick-up, altitude sickness, and our 30-minute flight from La Paz, we finally arrived in Cochabamba! Despite the long and tiring journey, the team got right to work whether unpacking supplies, selecting who will need what, or helping in any way possible. Once done, the team took a visit to the local warehouse at PuenteSol, Solidarity Bridge’s counterpart in Bolivia.

At dinnertime, we met with the PuenteSol board and staff over some Bolivian Silpancho. There was a very touching and important moment during this get-together, when they revealed a very special surprise. This surprise was a tower to hold laparoscopy equipment, including the monitor. What makes it so special? It’s a portable tower. Why is this such a big deal? Because it opens up the potential to take laparoscopic procedures to remote, rural areas. Even more special, one of our PuenteSol staff members, Jose and his brother, designed and built it!

Day 2: We meet our patients!

A hospital resident takes notes while mission P.A. Allison Soward and anesthesiologist Patrick Duey discuss a case with local surgeon, Dr. Vania Lozada.

The Bolivian host medical personnel at El Gastro hospital walked us through the different cases selected. Patients readied for their consultations as doctors reviewed CTs, x-rays, endoscopy images, and labs while deciding on a plan for each one. Some of these cases are quite complex, and without the assistance from Solidarity Bridge, most patients would just live on with their ailments.

Doctors John Gregory, Mike Fischer, and Malcolm Bilimoria pooled their knowledge for a final evaluation of patients before assembling the surgery schedule for the week.

After tentative schedules were set in place, we took some time to unwind. A group decided to walk to El Cristo, a local landmark. This is a statue of Christ atop a hill that overlooks Cochabamba. On the way back, they got caught in the rain. I couldn’t help but think about a common Bolivian tradition, La Ch’alla. When initiating a business, a new home, or a new project, a blessing is expressed by sprinkling water around. I am truly convinced the group was Ch’allado, blessed from above.

As a first time missioner, the idea that the team members put their personal needs aside from Day 1 is very inspiring, to say the least. It is a true privilege to be with a group of people who are so selflessly committed to this mission. We have only met for about forty-eight hours, but the amount of energy, camaraderie, and the spirit of giving are so profound and contagious. I have a feeling we will be a great team together. Go team!!!

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