The Cabanuelas of Mission: January Neurosurgery Mission Sets the Pace for a Productive Year

By Mary McCann Sanchez, Senior Director of Programs

In some countries in Latin America, each day in the month of January is carefully scrutinized to predict the weather for the rest of the year.  Stormy weather on certain days means high winds and rainfall in latter months. Sunny days are considered reliable predictors of the warmth needed for planting crops. The practice of using the first days of the year to plan life-giving agricultural activities is known as the cabanuelas.

My year at Solidarity Bridge began with a small but extremely significant mission. On January 22, I traveled to Cochabamba, Bolivia with Dr. Richard Moser, director of our Program for the Development of Neurosurgery, and Dr. Juan Lorenzo Hinojosa, founder of Solidarity Bridge and current president of the board of directors of our Bolivian partner organization, Puente de Solidaridad. The week was filled with a broad array of organizational and medical activities. If the cabanuelas hold true for the work of Solidarity Bridge, the year 2017 promises to be a year of teaching, healing, equipping and deepening our spiritual practice and celebration.


Our week began at the Viedma Hospital, which serves low-income patients from Cochabamba and beyond. Some 225 patients arrive daily for consultation. Surgeons are in high demand for life-changing interventions. Dr. Daysi Rocabado, director of this public hospital, met with Dr. Moser and the neurosurgery staff to plan an international course in spine surgery in which US and Bolivian faculty will provide lectures, simulation stations and mentored surgeries. The news spread quickly by television and radio. By the end of the week, the first participants had registered in the course and prospective patients had met with our Bolivian staff. Similarly, Dr. Rocabado informed us of preparations for Solidarity Bridge’s General Surgery Mission Trip in March of 2017 and, with colleagues from Puente de Solidaridad, we defined plans for equipping the hospital with critical tools needed for surgery.

Throughout the week, I was reminded that the heart of Solidarity Bridge is healing. Dr. Moser worked side by side with Bolivian neurosurgeons and an ENT specialist in four partnered surgeries to remove pituitary tumors and cysticerci. Recently graduated MDs provided medical interpretation in the operations, part of an ever-growing group of next-generation surgeons committed to the mission of serving patients with limited financial resources and urgent need.  Conversing with these patients in recovery, I was deeply moved by the animated words of a middle-aged woman who described the restoration of her vision as a result of the surgery. 

The journey continued. We visited the Belga Hospital where Solidarity Bridge is collaborating in establishing an epilepsy monitoring unit that will permit local neurologists and their patients' diagnostic information needed for the determination of treatment. Solidarity Bridge is working with US epileptologists and technicians to ensure complete technology transfer and optimal use of donated equipment. A walk through the renovated hospital wing that will hold the video monitoring unit was a cabanuela of hope. With the generous support of the medical industry and hospitals at home, Solidarity Bridge programs in 2017 can impact under-resourced medical centers and contribute to patients receiving the care they need.

My week drew to a close on Saturday. I visited the Maryknoll Mission Center in Cochabamba, which for decades has provided language and theological training to men and women committed to making our world better.  Although I usually see Fr. Dae Kim of Maryknoll, close friend of Solidarity Bridge, in a hospital setting where he provides pastoral support to our patients and their families, I was now a guest in his home. Maryknoll had generously provided space to Puente de Solidaridad for a lively and productive board meeting.


As I left the center, I thought of teaching and learning, healing, equipping, organizational planning, meeting with friends…if this is what 2017 is all about, I could certainly head home feeling good.

But no journey is complete without a surprise. The jaunt to Santa Cruz to pass the night prior to travel to the US was marked by an explosion of color and sound. Carnaval parades already underway! I stood with hundreds of others in the street in awe of costume, culture, music and exhilarating dance. And I could not help to smile as I thought who could ask for a better cabanuela? 2017 will, it seems, be a year of celebration.

Mary McCann Sanchez is the Senior Director of Programs at Solidarity Bridge. She oversees all programs and acts as our liaison with our local partner organization Puente de Solidaridad.