Photo, from bottom up: Dr. Janet Tomezsko on the fall 2017 trip to Tiquipaya with fellow missioners Donna Romano RN, Hilda Barba RN, Jodi Grahl, and Dr. Carrie Giordano.
By the numbers, last fall’s Gynecologic Surgery Mission Trip was the most successful in program history, with 30 patients evaluated and 17 women receiving surgical treatment. But as missioner Dr. Janet Tomezsko will tell you, her team focuses less on quantity and more on restoring the quality of life for women suffering from health challenges such as urinary incontinence, abnormal bleeding, uterine and vaginal prolapse, cysts, fibroids, and other conditions.
Dr. Tomezsko is a specialist in female pelvic medicine and reconstructive surgery with NorthShore Medical Group in the Chicago suburbs. During the October 2017 mission trip, she collaborated with a team that included the women pictured above as well as Puente de Solidaridad staff and Dr. José Choque, director of the Municipal Maternity and Children’s Hospital of Tiquipaya, which hosted the mission team.
Many missioners find that their memories of Bolivia remain vivid after they return to work and life in the United States. Following her trip, Dr. Tomezsko offered these reflections in an email interview.
Q: How many mission trips have you been on, and why do you keep coming back?
A: My most recent trip was my fourth. I return because I am providing a surgery that patients may not be able to have without myself and Solidarity Bridge working with our Bolivian peers. Also, I am truly in love with the people, from patients to staff to the physicians we have the honor to work with there.
What surgeries do you provide in Bolivia?
I usually perform urinary incontinence and vaginal prolapse surgeries, which can truly give patients back their lives and ability to be functional. These are quality-of-life surgeries—if you cannot participate in life and work, you cannot be a helpful member of society.
What are some similarities and differences between doing this work in the US and on mission?
The operations we do are technically the same in the US and Bolivia. The difference is the patients’ ability to access the surgery. Gynecologic surgery resources are limited in Bolivia and it's harder for patients to recover easily because they have to return to hard work so soon. They are so incredibly grateful for what we do.
What’s a memory that has stayed with you?
On our most recent mission trip, we were able to help more women than on any prior trip. It was moving beyond words to walk into the room where all my patients were recovering after surgery. They were not women in pain recovering; they were women overjoyed to have their health restored.
The Solidarity Bridge Gynecologic Surgery Program aims to help low-income Bolivian women receive needed interventions such as hysterectomies, endometrial ablation, and bladder repair. Through these surgeries, women who may live with discomfort or debility to the degree that it limits their daily activities can enjoy restored quality of life and productive capacities. This, in turn, maintains the welfare of their families and the larger community. The program works in partnership with Bolivian gynecologists, training them in novel techniques and outfitting them with the latest instruments and equipment donated by our corporate and individual supporters.