This is the third and final installment of our latest blog series, dedicated to introducing just a few of Solidarity Bridge’s key Bolivian medical partners.
In our previous two posts, you met General Surgeon Dr. Jaime Vallejos, and Heart Surgeon Dr. Carlos Brockmann. Today’s partner story takes us to the field of Neurosurgery, where we are equally blessed to work alongside the best surgical talents in Bolivia!
Written by: Jodi Grahl, Director of General Surgery, Gynecology & Pacemaker Programs
A standout from the beginning
After completing medical school and basic training in Bolivia, Dr. Gueider Salas, a native of Santa Cruz, was recommended for a prestigious fellowship to study neurosurgery in Mexico City. At the time, the neurosurgical field in Bolivia offered no in-country options to train in many of the field’s latest techniques. Over the next few years, Dr. Salas rotated among various Mexico City hospitals to complete both a specialty in neurosurgery and a subspecialty in spinal surgery. He later traveled to Belgium for another round of specialized training, this time in endoscopic brain surgery. When he finally returned to Santa Cruz, Dr. Salas was immediately positioned at the top of the neurosurgical field.
It takes more than a neurosurgeon to do neurosurgery
But there were many challenges to practicing his skills. The Bolivian hospitals, both public and private, often lacked even basic neurosurgical equipment and facilities. Since no one was performing the surgeries Dr. Salas had mastered, few even knew enough to refer patients for them. Bolivians who needed certain complex spinal or brain surgeries, for example, generally fell into two categories: those who could afford to do so, traveled to neighboring countries for surgery. And the vast majority who could not afford to go elsewhere, simply continued to suffer or passed away without treatment.
Significant groundwork was needed to transform the entire neurosurgical field in Bolivia in order for it to approach international standards, and to begin to meet the staggering patient needs.
The Neurosurgery Program is launched
In 2006, Solidarity Bridge sent its first neurosurgery mission trip to Cochabamba, Bolivia. A handful of Bolivian neurosurgeons from other cities were invited to meet the team. One of those Bolivian surgeons, Dr. Esteban Foianini from the Foianini Hospital in Santa Cruz, offered to host an Solidarity Bridge mission trip to Santa Cruz. Dr. Foianini introduced young Dr. Gueider Salas to the SB team. The US missioners quickly recognized Gueider’s outstanding credentials, his passion for surgery, and his generous heart for service.
Soon Solidarity Bridge mission teams alongside Dr. Gueider and others were performing surgeries never done before in Bolivia. Key equipment donations, ranging from trays of precise instruments to immense and powerful microscopes, began to fill key needs. Courses and conferences were scheduled to introduce the world’s latest groundbreaking procedures in brain and spinal surgery to the Bolivian community. In the meantime, Gueider served five years as President of the Santa Cruz Medical Society, from where he was able to access government ministries and broad medical coalitions to greatly influence and nudge the field’s overall development forward.
The Institute for the Development of Neurosurgery coming in 2015!
Dr. Gueider was and remains a permanent presence in the Solidarity Bridge Neurosurgery Program, from those early days to the present. In July 2014, he traveled to Chicago on a Solidarity Visit to tour hospitals and meet with leading neurosurgeons and hospital officials. The purpose of Gueider’s fact-finding mission was to study best practices for implementation in Bolivia’s new Institute for the Development of Neurosurgery (IDN). The IDN is one of Solidarity Bridge’s most ambitious projects to date; scheduled to open later this year, it will institutionalize and expand neurosurgical training and make available in Bolivia the latest highly-specialized instrumentation and tools.
During his July 2014 visit, we had the opportunity to chat with Gueider about the transformation of neurosurgery over the past ten years in Bolivia, and the corresponding role played by Solidarity Bridge. Gueider described the SB program as “a special program. There are other organizations and programs, but Solidarity Bridge’s way of working is widely encompassing. And it is sustained. It is always present.” He noted that both public and private hospitals in Santa Cruz no longer lack basic equipment and instrumentation; the authorities now recognize the importance of the neurosurgical field and have outfitted hospitals with the essentials. The IDN will step in to complement with less common but vital specialized tools and equipment. But from Dr. Salas’ perspective, the greatest impact of the IDN will be to form many more new surgeons, who will go on to serve many more patients.
Another great advancement highlighted by Dr. Salas is the fact that the Bolivian population is beginning to, as he put it “have more faith in Bolivian talent”. Rather than traveling abroad for complex surgeries, Bolivian patients are now turning to national doctors and hospitals thanks to the growing credibility of neurosurgery in the country.
Dr. Gueider also stressed the need for continued regular mission trips, which are now focused on treating especially complex cases. He and his colleagues identify patients who can benefit from the newest techniques. They then reach out to their US colleagues: Dr. Richard Moser (Neurosurgery Program Medical Director), Dr. Roberta Glick, Dr. Art DiPatri, Dr. John Weaver, and others they have met over the years on Solidarity Bridge missions, for their expertise.
And … extra-special Congratulations are in order!
It has been a year since Gueider’s US visit and our talk, and program developments continue on the fast track. But there is more exciting news to share. Not only is the Neurosurgery Program undergoing a period of accelerated expansion, Gueider’s family is too! In a few months, Gueider and his wife Danitza are expecting a baby girl! In addition to her parents, the baby will be welcomed by two older sisters and an older brother. Felicidades a todos!
We hope you have enjoyed this peek into the fascinating field of neurosurgery in Bolivia. Together, we are truly taking Bolivian healthcare to an entirely new level!
With this, we wrap up our summer 2015 blog series on our Bolivian medical partners. We hope it brings new understanding on the “nuts and bolts” of how we put Solidarity into Action to Heal and Empower in Latin America!