Written by: Jodi Grahl, Director of General Surgery, Gynecology & Pacemaker Programs

... in other words, a lot of good people doing their part.

In our previous blog post, we talked about the need to expand capacity to treat children born with congenital heart defects in Bolivia. We established that the ability to perform these surgeries in a public hospital would allow us to multiply the number of children we can help by greatly reducing costs, compared to the same surgeries in the upscale private hospitals, which until now had been our only option. 

Many individuals, institutions, and circumstances would come together to make our dream a reality. Multiple actors emerged and merged toward a shared vision:

Juan Lorenzo Hinojosa with Bolivian cardiologists Dr. Virna Severiche and Dr. Paulo Rosado, who spent three weeks at Lurie Children’s Hospital to observe best practices.

Juan Lorenzo Hinojosa with Bolivian cardiologists Dr. Virna Severiche and Dr. Paulo Rosado, who spent three weeks at Lurie Children’s Hospital to observe best practices.

Our Open Heart Surgery Program Director, Juan Lorenzo Hinojosa, discerned that the moment was ripe to move forward. He consulted our major donors, Isaac and Renee Goff, who were eager to expand their support to back the initiative in order to help more children access life-giving surgeries. 

The public hospital of Santa Cruz, Hospital Municipal de Niños, expressed interest in expanding its services to include pediatric heart care. This hospital is governed under the State Government of Santa Cruz, with whom we had already developed a working relationship around other efforts, boding well for the possibility to collaborate here too. Talks began; responsibilities were mapped and delegated, and a plan began to unfold. The Hospital Director, Dr. Alejandra Uriona, researched and coordinated extensive remodeling of hospital spaces. Surgical facilities were not enough; a full pediatric Cardiac Care Unit (CCU) was needed to provide the intensive, round-the-clock care that babies and children require following heart surgery, often for days and weeks, while their tiny bodies mend and gain strength. No public children’s hospital in Bolivia had ever built a CCU, so we were breaking new ground. 

Dr. Alejandra Uriona, Director of Hospital de Ninos, and her colleagues, toured Lurie Children's Hospital alongside Solidarity Bridge's Dr. Dan Lum and Jodi Grahl.

Dr. Alejandra Uriona, Director of Hospital de Ninos, and her colleagues, toured Lurie Children's Hospital alongside Solidarity Bridge's Dr. Dan Lum and Jodi Grahl.

U.S. pediatrician Dr. Daniel Lum, Solidarity Bridge board member and frequent missioner who also happens to be Chief Medical Officer of the Clinically Integrated Network at Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago, took on medical oversight of the project on behalf of Solidarity Bridge. Dr. Lum opened channels to transfer key expertise from Lurie Hospital to the new facilities. 

A vibrant Bolivian medical staff began to assemble, including pediatric heart surgeon Dr. Roberto Pacheco and pediatric cardiologist Dr. Virna Severiche, as well as critical care nurses and others eager to join the team. Many with better-paid positions elsewhere took on extra work shifts in this effort for the common good. Long-term Bolivian medical partners of our Heart Program, including heart surgeons Dr. Carlos Brockmann and Dr. Arturo Barrientos, opened their doors to share expertise and support in order to put the new team on solid footing. 

This pediatric drill will soon arrive at the Hospital de Ninos. Solidarity Bridge continues to provide key equipment to better resource the new OR and CCU.

This pediatric drill will soon arrive at the Hospital de Ninos. Solidarity Bridge continues to provide key equipment to better resource the new OR and CCU.

All the while, in addition to convening and coordinating the noted activities, Juan Lorenzo corresponded with various partners in Bolivia and the U.S. to identify pressing equipment and supply needs. Bridges were built with various U.S. donors to fill those needs. Other vital pieces of equipment were purchased by Solidarity Bridge. In addition to loyal supporters Isaac and Renee Goff of Dharma Trading Co., other donors, eager to be part of this exciting development, pledged additional funds. 

There are many, many more who played their own small and large parts. By late 2014, the Secretary of Health of the State of Santa Cruz was on hand to cut the ribbon on the state’s first public pediatric heart surgery effort and Bolivia’s first public pediatric Cardiac Care Unit! 

The hospital would not be ready for its first patients for a few more months. In our next blog, you will finally meet some of the first families and children whose lives have been transformed, thanks to the powerful synergies of so many partners and supporters. In other words, thanks to solidarity

Meanwhile, we’ll tell you about another child whose story was re-written through our program:

Solidarity Bridge Open Heart surgery patient, Balery.

Solidarity Bridge Open Heart surgery patient, Balery.

Meet Balery: 

Many children born with heart defects in Bolivia do not get treatment until they are older, when repairs are often more difficult, and additional complications have developed. Fortunately, in Balery’s case, her parents took her to the doctor at the first sign of distress. And despite her father’s meager construction-worker income, Balery was operated at the ideal moment, at just five months of age. Our Bolivian medical partners, Dr. Carlos Brockmann and his team at Clínica Belga in Cochabamba, acted fast to close the hole in her tiny heart. The reliable financial support of Isaac and Renee Goff was also critical to make her surgery possible without delay. Balery is now thriving at home with her parents Milton and Eloina, and her doting older sister Verónica.

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