The Tower That Solidarity Built

 Partners with the new laparoscopic tower at Viedma Hospital, March 2018

Partners with the new laparoscopic tower at Viedma Hospital, March 2018

by Betsy Station

The gap in high-tech surgical care available to wealthy and poor patients has narrowed a bit in Cochabamba, Bolivia. Thanks to the donation of a laparoscopic tower through a partnership between Rotary, Solidarity Bridge, and Puente de Solidaridad, the city’s Viedma Hospital can now offer minimally invasive surgery to more patients.

Laparoscopic surgery is the standard of care for hernia, gallbladder, and other general surgeries, when hospitals can afford to purchase the tower and related equipment—and when surgical teams are trained in appropriate techniques. Performed with small incisions in the abdomen or pelvis, laparoscopic surgery is minimally invasive and offers many advantages over traditional, open surgery, including shorter hospital stays and reduced infections, scarring, and pain. Quicker recovery times also allow patients to return to work sooner.

Yet despite its advantages, laparoscopic surgery is out of reach for most Bolivians because public hospitals lack the expensive equipment, supplies, and training to use them. Viedma Hospital, which averages 225 consultations per day, is the most important public hospital in the department of Cochabamba offering complex surgical care to low-income patients. Until recently, its surgeons shared one decade-old and increasingly unreliable laparoscopic tower.

 From left: Margarita Hewko (Rotary/One), Patricia Vargas (Puente de Solidaridad), Drs. Jaime Vallejos and Johnny Camacho (Viedma Hospital), and Jodi Grahl (Solidarity Bridge) in Evanston, April 2018.

From left: Margarita Hewko (Rotary/One), Patricia Vargas (Puente de Solidaridad), Drs. Jaime Vallejos and Johnny Camacho (Viedma Hospital), and Jodi Grahl (Solidarity Bridge) in Evanston, April 2018.

With the donation of the new tower and instrument set, the hospital can respond better to high patient demand for laparoscopic services. Because the equipment is costly, in 2016 Solidarity Bridge sought a global grant through a key partner—Rotary—whose member clubs donated more than $80,000 to purchase the tower and instruments from a German manufacturer. Margarita Hewko, a member of the lead sponsor club, the Rotary One Club of Chicago, spearheaded global fundraising efforts that garnered contributions from 17 Rotary Clubs in locations from India to Argentina. Matching funds were provided by the Rotary Foundation of Rotary International.

In late 2017, Puente de Solidaridad and Rotary Club 4079 of Cochabamba facilitated the delivery and installation of the tower at Viedma Hospital. Last month, a general surgery mission team joined forces with longtime local partners to celebrate the generous donation, provide a week of surgeries, and optimize use of the new equipment. During the tower’s first month in operation, 64 surgeries were provided for low-income patients; that demand is expected to continue.

The vast majority of patients at Viedma Hospital have limited financial means and no insurance. Most make a meager living as day laborers or small farmers. Many come to the hospital in advanced stages of illness made worse by poverty, but at the same time they are eager to get back to work to sustain their families. For such patients, access to minimally invasive surgery is greatly needed—and long overdue. May this partnership forged by many bring healing to many more.


Betsy Station is a communications and development associate at Solidarity Bridge.