Throughout the year, our Bolivian partner surgeons perform gall bladder and hernia surgeries for impoverished patients identified through our Bolivian office in Cochabamba. Our mission teams deliver vital equipment and supplies and provide ongoing training to continue to advance skills in these procedures and expand competencies in these and other high-complexity surgeries such as megacolon and various oncological surgeries.
Dr. Jaime Vallejos, General Surgeon
In 2009, Dr. Jaime Vallejos was the young general surgeon appointed by the Viedma Hospital, a large public hospital in Cochabamba, to organize the surgery schedule for Solidarity Bridge’s first mission trip focused on training in laparoscopic surgery. The mission team soon noted Dr. Vallejos’s special gifts in laparoscopy and dedication to his patients. In 2011, he was invited to collaborate as a full-time Solidarity Bridge partner. Since then, Dr. Vallejos has performed over 100 general surgeries, primarily laparoscopic gall bladder and hernia surgeries, through our year-round program.
Gregoria, a wife and mother of five, lives in a rural community near the town of Punata, an hour east of Cochabamba. At the age of fifty-nine, Gregoria began to experience aches, pains, and digestive issues that led to unexpected weight loss. Concerned by her worsening condition, she and her husband, a farmer, made the journey to Cochabamba to seek medical attention. They received devastating news: Gregoria had pancreatic cancer. Gregoria speaks only Quechua, so she relied on her husband to communicate with the doctors as they explained the seriousness of the operation she needed, made possible by assistance from Solidarity Bridge.
Gregoria’s husband was understandably anxious about the intensive surgery ahead, but took comfort when Dr. Bilimoria reassured him, “We will treat your wife as if she were our own family member.” During the five-hour operation, Dr. Bilimoria and Bolivian partner Dr. Vania Lozada were relieved to find that the cancer had not spread. They were able to successfully perform a Whipple procedure, which involves removal of the tumor and subsequent diversion and reconstruction of a large portion of the digestive system.
Gregoria and her family were immensely relieved and grateful to learn that the outcome of the surgery was the best they had hoped for, and a full recovery was expected. Gregoria spent ten days in El Gastro Hospital before returning to her modest brick and adobe home. Her health restored, she is able to resume her household duties, care for her children, and once again greet her husband and son with a warm meal after a hard day’s work in the fields.
In 2014, our General Surgery Program greatly expanded its reach through the launch of a mobile laparoscopic unit. The mobile unit, consisting of a vehicle outfitted with a collapsible laparoscopic tower and portable anesthesia machine, will travel with a Bolivian partner surgeon and anesthesiologist to smaller hospitals in and around Cochabamba to perform laparoscopic surgeries, primarily hernias and gall bladders. These hospitals serve the lowest-income, most often indigenous, patients. The mobile unit allows Solidarity Bridge to better reach this demographic of patients who live in the poorest towns and suburban settlements. For financial and cultural reasons, these patients are unable or extremely reluctant to go to the large urban hospitals, the only places where such surgeries are otherwise available. Now, we are taking state-of-the-art care to them!
Training and equipping Bolivian partners to perform laparoscopic surgery has been a strong focus of the General Surgery Program since 2010. Laparoscopic surgery, when appropriate, can offer many advantages over open techniques. In addition to better results in general, benefits for the patient may include shorter hospital stays and overall recovery times, and reduced scarring and risk of infection.