Beyond the Numbers... People

Written by Betsy Station

Working with limited time and resources to deliver health care to a population with great need, it’s easy to get caught up in the numbers. During our five-day multi-specialty mission trip to Mizque, Bolivia, for example, we hope to offer surgery or clinical care to more than 500 low-income patients. Our host institution, Dr. Augusto Morales Asua Hospital, serves nearly 3,000 patients each month from more than 70 surrounding rural communities.

In our first two days at this small but mighty public hospital, the mission team has already seen 290 patients. When we arrive early Wednesday morning, people are waiting quietly to check in, forming a line that flows out the front door. We’re told that the first patients arrived at 4 a.m. and more will keep coming all day.

Patients aren’t just numbers. They are people with hopes, dreams, and families.

But “patients aren’t just numbers,” Alfonso Flores, our partner from Puente de Solidaridad reminded me. “They are people with hopes, dreams, and families.” In our brief encounters with the people seeking care here, we have been privileged to learn about their struggles and to share moments of concern, humor, and connection. Here are a few of their stories.



At home after surgery (l-r), Lourdes with her sister, baby, and husband.

Lourdes, a 22-year old mother, was discharged from the hospital Tuesday after undergoing gallbladder surgery. She had been admitted seven days before and waited for the Solidarity Bridge team to arrive so she could have a less invasive, laparoscopic procedure. Laparoscopic surgery, now the standard of care in the US for many procedures, is unavailable at most rural hospitals in Bolivia. Having this procedure was important for Lourdes because she gave birth to a baby daughter, Emily, by cesarean section just four months ago. Veteran missioner Dr. Magued Khouzam performed the surgery, partnering with Mizque hospital’s only surgeon, Dr. Wilder González, who will handle Lourdes’ follow-up care.

Showing strength through her pain, Lourdes carefully boarded the Puente de Solidaridad van to go home with her husband, Jimmy, her sister, and baby Emily. Alfonso and Puente de Solidaridad social worker Marisol Mamani drove the family through the hilly, green countryside to their home outside Mizque, where they grow potatoes, onions, carrots, and tomatoes, like many farmers in the area. We wish Lourdes a swift recovery!

Pediatric Clinic


In a spirit of mutuality, David and Dr. Monica open wide and say “aah!'“

David, just 3 years old, is one of many preschool-age children and babies seen this week in the pediatric clinic. Few kids enjoy visits to the doctor, but missioner Dr. Monica Joseph-Griffin and her Bolivian partner, Dr. Marcelo Suárez, know how to put little ones at ease with a tickle on the tummy, stickers to take home, or gentle reassurance for their worried mothers. David has a cough and sore throat, but shows no other symptoms, so he is sent home with a prescription for acetaminophen drops, covered by health insurance that’s free for all children under 5 in Bolivia.

Physical Therapy Clinic


Valentina and Kim practice neck stretches in the physical therapy clinic.

Valentina, age 65 and a grandmother of 12, has suffered from debilitating neck pain, headaches, and knee pain for many years. The hospital referred her to our physical therapy clinic for help. Hard labor in agriculture and limited access to medical care take a physical toll on rural patients. This week, missioner and physical therapist Kim Stover has provided consultations for many older women, offering advice, a caring touch, and personalized home exercise programs. Valentina learned some simple neck and knee stretches to manage her pain; as she departed, she gave Kim kisses on both cheeks and warm thanks.

The week in Mizque will continue to be busy for the mission team and the hospital staff. In addition to providing clinical care and surgery, US doctors are giving talks about their specialties for their Bolivian counterparts. Before starting his work in the OR on Wednesday, Dr. Magued shared a brief presentation on techniques for open versus laparoscopic gallbladder surgery. Among his slides was a quote from Mother Teresa, an inspiring role model for those serving people with profound need. “Never worry about numbers,” she said. “Help one person at a time, and always start with the person nearest you.”

The 2018 Multi-Specialty Mission Trip takes place September 28 to October 7, 2018, in Mizque, Bolivia. The team is comprised of a general surgery operating team, clinical physicians in cardiology, gynecology, pediatrics, family medicine and dermatology, and a physical therapist. US missioners will work alongside their Bolivian colleagues to provide care to hundreds of patients in need.

Betsy Station is a communications and development volunteer with Solidarity Bridge. She is also working as an interpreter in Mizque, on her first mission trip.