Written by: Betsy Station
Since 2001, Solidarity Bridge has helped to implant more than 2,000 pacemakers in Bolivia, but this life-saving surgery is just the beginning. Once a patient receives a pacemaker implant, we commit to their permanent, lifetime follow-up care.
The average age of our pacemaker implant recipients is currently just 57. Most hail from Cochabamba, Santa Cruz, and Chuquisaca, the regions most affected by Chagas disease, which is the leading cause of heart failure for roughly three out of four of our implant patients.
Many pacemaker patients return to long and productive lives after their initial treatment, but a healthy heartbeat is something they can never take for granted. Patricia, a grandmother who works cleaning houses in Santa Cruz, had her first pacemaker implanted in her 50s. The surgery restored her health, but five years later, her fatigue and headaches returned—a sign that it was time to replace the battery.
Patricia shares a modest three-room home with her two grandchildren, great-grandson, and daughter’s ex-husband. Like many Bolivians who struggle with poverty, Patricia had no way to obtain the surgery she needed without assistance. But thanks to Puente de Solidaridad (PdS), our generous Bolivian partner cardiologists, and donor support, Patricia received her second implant in 2016.
She will need to return to the PdS pacemaker clinic at least once a year to be monitored—for life. Like many patients, she may need a new battery or device every five to ten years.
Solidarity Bridge is changing lives with this urgently needed care: in 2016, we replaced 20 pacemakers for past patients. Seven Bolivian cardiologists and one US missioner, Dr. Joseph Wu of UCLA Medical Center, implanted 127 pacemakers, defibrillators, and resynchronization therapy devices at 10 partner hospitals.
In-kind support from Medtronic Corporation, St. Jude Medical, and Boston Scientific—corporate partners who donate pacemakers and other implantable cardiac devices—is the backbone of this program. In addition, gifts from individual donors provide critical resources to ensure that pacemaker patients will receive continuing care.
Without that generous support, says Patricia, “People like us, whose resources are scarce, could lose our lives. That’s why I’m grateful for your work—may God bless you.”
Betsy Station serves as communications and development associate at Solidarity Bridge.
Our Heart Surgery Program is one of five areas in which Solidarity Bridge helps to provide advanced and life-saving care to Bolivians living in poverty. Your support will enable us to reach and heal many more patients. Please make a donation today.