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

Third Mobile Surgery Campaign to Punata, Bolivia

As summer wraps up across the U.S., we are delighted to share one final summer blog to keep our readers up-to-date on another of our proud recent achievements: the Mobile Laparoscopic Surgery Unit.

What is the Mobile Surgery Unit?

Before surgeries began, our Bolivian social worker visited patients in their homes to complete their socio-economic studies and other required documentation. These visits help assure that our services are provided to those individuals with the greatest need.

Before surgeries began, our Bolivian social worker visited patients in their homes to complete their socio-economic studies and other required documentation. These visits help assure that our services are provided to those individuals with the greatest need.

You may already have read about our Mobile Laparoscopic Surgery Unit on our web page or in our 2014 Annual Report. In case you haven’t, here’s some background…

After a multi-year process --from the idea’s initial conception through its meticulous design and assembly headed by Bolivian partner surgeon Dr. Jaime Vallejos and Puente de Solidaridad Medical Supplies Coordinator José Choque-- our Mobile Laparoscopic Surgery Unit was launched in November 2014. The Mobile Unit consists of a portable laparoscopic tower and anesthesia machine and other supplies and instruments transported to and reassembled at provincial hospitals. The purpose of the Mobile Unit is to place our general surgery services within the reach of the patients who most need them.

The collapsible laparoscopic tower was unveiled in February 2014, as featured in a blog post from the 2014 General Surgery Mission Trip to Cochabamba. Efforts continued in the following months to compile other elements, including the portable anesthesia machine donated by Solidarity Bridge, with training in its use provided by U.S. missioner Dr. Mike Perconti.

The Mobile Unit is launched

The surgical team at work.

The surgical team at work.

All those efforts finally came to fruition in November 2014 with the first Mobile Laparoscopic Surgery Campaign hosted at the Municipal Hospital of Punata, located about 90 minutes east of Cochabamba. A total of 18 surgeries were performed, including 16 gall bladder extractions and two hernia repairs. Of these, 15 were laparoscopic, while three required traditional open surgery, which the team is also prepared to perform.  The Mobile Unit returned to Punata in April of this year for a second short campaign, providing nine surgeries over four days.

Celebrating our third Campaign!

Dr. Johnny Camacho reviews surgical instruments with nursing staff in the Punata Hospital.

Dr. Johnny Camacho reviews surgical instruments with nursing staff in the Punata Hospital.

Today we are delighted to share the news of a third and very busy Mobile Laparoscopic Surgery Unit Campaign, once again to the Municipal Hospital of Punata. The positive outcomes among patients served in the first two visits led to overwhelming demand for more. We are especially grateful to our local staff and medical partners in Cochabamba who selflessly responded to the call! This latest effort was scheduled for August 24-31, but extended into a second week to serve even more patients. This ability of our local staff and partners to adapt and respond to local needs in an agile and timely manner is another prime example of the importance of transferring skills, tools and capacities to our Bolivian partners. And the ability of the local teams to take over what are now “routine” surgeries for them –gall bladders and hernias– means that Solidarity Bridge General Surgery Mission Trips can now focus on training in progressively more complex surgeries, as evidenced in the 2015 GSMT earlier this year.

Puente de Solidaridad Board Member and Chaplain, María Eugenia Rojas, prays with a patient and her son.

Puente de Solidaridad Board Member and Chaplain, María Eugenia Rojas, prays with a patient and her son.

This most recent Mobile Campaign provided a total of 19 operations. To date, all the Punata surgeries have been performed by Bolivian partner Dr. Johnny Camacho and his local colleague, Dr. Norberto Manzano. They in turn are supported by the very dedicated Punata Hospital medical staff, all of whom have demonstrated eagerness to learn in the hopes of one day acquiring their own capacity to perform these surgeries.

Each Mobile Campaign is coordinated, accompanied and documented by the staff of our local office, Puente de Solidaridad, including Executive Director Patricia Vargas, Medical Supplies Coordinator José Choque, Social Workers María Inés Uriona and Marizol Mamani, and occasionally our Chaplain María Eugenia Rojas. The current Campaign was especially blessed to include Maryknoll priest Fr. Dae Kim, who provided additional spiritual accompaniment for patients as well as the surgical team and support staff.

Thank you to everyone who made this successful campaign possible! 

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