Maria Eugenia Rojas, board member of Puente de Solidaridad and chaplain, joins Solidarity Bridge Senior Program Director Mary McCann Sanchez in preparing today’s blog that features Alma, a patient whose courage and self-awareness inspired our team as we close our Gynecologic Mission in Tiquipaya. 

Alma at closing ceremony, along with Dr. Ron, her daughter, and Dr. Janet.

Alma at closing ceremony, along with Dr. Ron, her daughter, and Dr. Janet.

Alma is a steadfast and determined woman. The mother of twelve, she has worked for years in the bus terminal in Cochabamba selling breakfast drinks. Accustomed to working long hours under noisy, chaotic conditions, Alma anchored her routine in the knowledge that her example -- and the tiny income she generated on a daily basis – would contribute to the well-being of her large family.
 
Last week, Alma felt particularly tired in her small stand and packed her goods to go home early. She went to her home and turned on the television. A gynecologic mission will perform surgeries in the public hospital in Tiquipaya next week…contact Puente de Solidaridad.
 
Alma knew that this was her opportunity. For years she had felt the nagging discomfort and pain that many middle-aged and older women in Bolivia, and throughout the world, experience. She knew that this was her time and her decision. Within hours, Alma was on the phone with Puente de Solidaridad social worker, Marizol, explaining that she would like to be screened for treatment.

Alma and Maria Eugenia Rojas (trip chaplain) prays together after her successful surgery.

Alma and Maria Eugenia Rojas (trip chaplain) prays together after her successful surgery.

Not all patients with conditions of prolapse and stress incontinence require surgery. Solidarity Bridge medical missioners, Dr. Janet Tomezsko and Dr. Ron Miller, together with colleague Dr. Jose Luis Choque, examined Alma and discussed her case in which surgical intervention was imperative. The wheels began to turn in what became a series of five consecutive gynecologic surgeries. Although hysterectomies are common in Bolivia, Solidarity Bridge missioners and local gynecologist agreed that a hysterectomy and additional repairs would provide a much better quality of life to the patient.
 
After Alma's decision to undergo surgery, her family began to stream into the hospital, particularly as minor problems and setbacks emerged, delaying her operation. Carefully monitoring Alma’s labs and her vitals, the lead doctor finally gave the green light for surgery. Although fatigued by the repetition of lab tests over two days, Alma did not falter. I came here for surgery, she told us, take all the tests you need.

“My mother deserves to have good health,” one of her daughters commented. A son added, “She has suffered a lot over the years, but she is strong and independent. She knew the mission was the answer --- and she moved ahead.” He cracked a whimsical smile, “She’s not a woman who asks “permission” of her children.”
 
Emerging from the successful surgery, our gyne team was met by a crowd of family members.  I thought it was another holiday, Marizol commented, referring to the festivities of International Women’s Day and the celebration of the feast day of San Juan de Dios, patron of hospitals.  I soon realized that it was all about Alma.
 
And Alma herself? I am a new woman, she smiled back, as her doctors gave her post-op instructions in the morning. She provided testimony at our closing ritual, speaking to a large group of persons gathered in the hospital’s central area. I feel as if I have been born again. More than a dozen women whose health was restored this week through Solidarity Bridge surgeries agreed. And what could be sweeter than that on the final day of our mission?

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