US and Bolivian Surgeons Share a Heart for Mission

Written by Lindsay Doucette


“We invite you to join us as agents of solidarity.” Puente de Solidaridad Director of Mission and Identity, Marcela Canedo, shared these words with US Missioners and our Bolivian partners during a joint opening ritual for our General Surgery and Neurosurgery mission trips work in Cochabamba this week. 

This event was unique in that it began by recognizing the contributions of long-time US missioners Drs. Richard Moser and Gay Garrett as well as Bolivian partner surgeons, Drs. Johnny Camacho and Jaime Vallejos. Puente de Solidaridad pointed to these dedicated surgeons as role models in the important work of building bridges, not walls. Through their many years of mission service, they have built bridges both nationally and internationally, increasing access to safe surgical care for those in greatest need. In addition to recognizing the contributions of veteran missioners, Puente de Solidaridad also welcomed new US missioners and Bolivian partner surgeons present to enter deeply into this mission of solidarity.

Drs. Camacho and Vallejos also shared updates on their recent mobile surgery campaigns –coordinated through Puente de Solidaridad and supported by supply donations from Solidarity Bridge – that have given them the opportunity to be missioners in service to their own Bolivian brothers and sisters. Through the use of a portable laparoscopic tower, these general surgeons travel with Puente de Solidaridad staff to reach patients who don’t have the resources or ability to travel to urban hospitals for surgical care. These campaigns are key to increasing access to safe surgery for people living on the margins and at the same time, they create a space for Bolivian doctors to replicate the mission model of Solidarity Bridge; sharing training and equipment with their colleagues in rural settings.

This innovative work should be shared with the world.
— Dr. Moser, speaking of the mobile surgery campaigns

After listening and learning about the reality of the Bolivian health care system, it was touching to hear the comments of US missioners in support of their Bolivian colleagues.  “You should be applauded,” Dr. Barbara Lazio, said as she led the room in a round of applause for the Bolivian practitioners. “This innovative work should be shared with the world,” said Dr. Richard Moser, speaking of the mobile surgery campaigns.  Dr. Moser proposed suggestions for sharing these as a model to be replicated all over the world to reach people in need and expand access to safe surgery.

 Celebrating the donation of a new laparoscopic tower, on permanent loan to the Viedma Hospital.

Celebrating the donation of a new laparoscopic tower, on permanent loan to the Viedma Hospital.

The US and Bolivian neurosurgery and general surgery mission teams were together again the following day for a celebration at the Viedma Hospital where they celebrated the inauguration of a new laparoscopic tower. This donation was made possible through our partnership with Rotary International. It will expand the hospital’s capacity to offer minimally invasive general surgeries, which are often safer than open surgery and provide patients with faster recovery times and better outcomes. Faster recovery times, in particular, will allow this busy public hospital to serve many more patients each year.

Drs. Camacho and Vallejos beamed as the visiting surgeons inspected and admired the new equipment. Many Viedma hospital staff gathered round and filled the doorways as Viedma chief of neurosurgery, Dr. Eduardo Amaya, thanked Solidarity Bridge and Puente de Solidaridad for making this crucial equipment donation possible.  He assured all those present that these tools would not be taken for granted and would be used to provide healing and hope for many Bolivian families in the years ahead.   

As our work continues this week, we are filled with gratitude for the spirit of mission carried in the hearts of all the medical practitioners with whom we work. Whether US or Bolivian, we have a shared passion for bringing lifesaving medical care to patients in need.

Lindsay Doucette is the Senior Director of Programs for Solidarity Bridge, and is accompanying our neurosurgery team on their March mission trip. 

This blog reports on mission trips connected to our Program for the Development of Neurosurgery and our General Surgery Program.