Written by Rachel Gunderson and Deb Winarski

Monday was our first day in clinic at the hospital. After each doctor met their Bolivian counterpart, (physicians and residents they will be working with throughout the week) and got settled in their rooms, there were many patients to see.

Dr. Mark Ottolin, a cardiologist on his seventh mission with Solidarity Bridge, got right to work. He had brought along a portable echocardiogram, an important piece of equipment for a cardiologist, but also very expensive and not widely available at 2nd level hospitals like the one we are at in Punata. His expertise and use of this equipment drew many residents to his room where they could observe his technique for assessing patients.

The morning was busy and it was lunchtime before we knew it. After lunch, there was a patient who Dr. Ottolin, an adult cardiologist, doesn’t often get to treat -- a four year old boy named Santiago, who had been diagnosed at birth with a hole in his heart. His parents were concerned that he was not growing as he should and that he often got more winded than their other children while playing.

Dr. Ottolin recruited the assistance of first time missioner and pediatrician, Dr. Monica Joseph. They worked together to examine Santiago, perform the echocardiogram, and to answer the questions that had brought his family in to the clinic. While he was diagnosed at birth, sometimes these holes in the heart will close themselves as the child grows, without the need for surgical intervention. Santiago had only a few other records in his medical history and hadn’t been to see a doctor regularly to check his progress.

Through the echocardiogram the doctors confirmed that a hole in his heart remained. While he did seem a bit small for his age, he was not greatly behind on the growth chart. While trying to assess how much the hole might have impacted him, his parents mentioned that he had a twin brother in the waiting room, so they brought him in. “The brother was at least half a head taller than Santiago,” said Dr. Ottolin. “Because of the comparison with his twin, I could see that further care was needed, and I was able to refer him to the Children’s Heart Program of Solidarity Bridge. We don’t often get the chance to have a twin to measure growth by -- it’s like he came to us with his very own tape measure.”

“Santiago’s mom said that he had seen doctors a few times before, but had always been afraid of them, screaming during visits” said Julie Phipps, an interpreter on our mission. This wasn’t the case with Dr. Ottolin. Santiago was happy throughout the visit and climbed right into the doctor’s lap.

Through this mission of solidarity, we share our expertise, and our caring. We are so glad that Santiago and his family will have an opportunity to receive the care he needs through our year-round Children’s Heart Program.


Rachel Gunderson is the Director of Development at Solidarity Bridge, she joins us for her first mission as our team's communications manager. 

Deb Winarski has been a friend of Solidarity Bridge for many years. She joins us in Bolivia for the first time this year as our team photographer. 

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