Written by Catherine Flanagan
On Tuesday morning, I had the privilege to join Fr. Bob Oldershaw, our team chaplain, as he met and prayed with the patients scheduled for surgery that day. The joy and faith of one patient epitomized to me the transformative nature of our mission. The patient is Galia, a vivacious 47 year old who had come for a hysterectomy. As we chatted with her, and began to pray together, we learned about her story and her spirit.
Galia showed us a handkerchief she had with her. It was white with a black image on it. She told us that the image is of the patron of Cochabamba. (Virgen de Urkupiña). The Virgin’s feast day is August 15. On that day, Galia had prayed to find a doctor who would perform her surgery. She didn’t have enough money for the expensive operation, but she knew that she really needed it. Soon after the feast day, a member of Galia’s community heard about the Solidarity Bridge mission to Cliza, and told her about it. She reached out to Puente de Solidaridad and was scheduled for surgery this week. With tears in her eyes, she told us that this is the answer to her prayers. She was looking for a miracle, and she found it through our mission trip.
Galia is so grateful that we are here to help her. Fr. Bob told her that it should be the work of all men and women to help each other. That, she agreed, is God’s plan.
Fr. Bob gave Galia a rosary, which she put around her neck. When he asked her if she would like to pray, she said with a huge smile that singing is her way. So the group of us, gathered around her bedside, sang the Hail Mary (Ave Maria) together in Spanish. Galia told us, “A piece of Bolivia will always be in your heart.” We prayed with Galia and blessed her by laying our hands on her and sharing the power of the Holy Spirit. She had the handkerchief spread across her lap.
Soon, a nurse came in with a wheelchair to take Galia to surgery. “Un momento,” Fr. Bob requested. Then he gave Galia the anointing of the sick. She was smiling and seemed at peace and ready for her surgery. We blessed Galia and parted ways. We looked forward to seeing her joyful smile again. “Que Dios le bendiga.” God bless you. And, “Hasta luego”, because we knew we would be seeing that smiling face and joyous spirit again.
Hours later, Galia’s surgery was performed by our missioners, gynecologic surgeon Dr. Shelly Agarwal, anesthesiologist Dr. Bridget Barrow, and surgical nurse Jen Gentile. They were joined by their Bolivian peers, Dr. Escobar, Dr. Camacho, and numerous other OR staff. It was remarkable to watch the combined U.S. and Bolivian team work together and learn from each other.
Adjustments and adaptations were needed as this type of surgery is not usually performed at this hospital. The team planned to use a laparoscopic tower on loan from Puente de Solidaridad, and anesthesia monitoring equipment that we had donated previously. But they also had to reconfigure the operating table in order to have the patient in proper position. Typically, a specialized table would be used, but we have found that these are rarely available in the public hospitals where we work. In the spring of 2020 Solidarity Bridge will send another container shipment of supplies from our in-kind donors here in the US. We hope to include one or more of these specialized tables in that shipment.
Once everything was arranged, Dr. Agarwal and Dr. Camacho worked together to perform the complex procedure. The OR was packed with US and Bolivian doctors as well as many residents from the hospital, all wanting to observe. Through the talents of the combined medical team, the surgery was a success.
Today, Dr. Agarwal went to check on Galia’s recovery. The healing had begun and her smile was as wide as ever. She thanked Dr. Agarwal and told her that she felt so relieved to have had her as her surgeon. Galia will go home this afternoon with her daughter Melanie who has taken time off from University to be with her mom. Galia and Melanie are so thankful to have received this surgery. As Melanie puts it, “my mom was in a lot of pain, and she really deserves to be well. This surgery from Solidarity Bridge is the answer to our prayers.”
Galia is eager to return to the wine distribution business she is starting, but she has a more immediate priority. First, she will return to the Municipal Hospital of Cliza on Friday to join in our closing ritual. She wants to greet and thank the entire Solidarity Bridge/Puente de Solidaridad team. I feel quite certain that Virgen de Urkupiña will also be receiving prayers of thanks.