Fertile Ground for Scientific Exchange

Written by: Gustavo Arreguín Mendoza

When I heard Dr. Carlos Dabdoub, a renowned neurosurgeon and educator in Bolivia, announce that his opening lecture in Solidarity Bridge’s pediatric neurosurgery course in Santa Cruz would be entitled Abriendo Surcos, I could not have been more intrigued.  In my role as an organizational intern on this surgical and educational mission, I was anxious to hear more from Dr. Dabdoub, a trailblazer among the experts in the field and a mentor and teacher to many of the current physicians attending the course.  

Some of our course participants and organizers.

Literally Abriendo Surcos means “opening furrows” and was Dr. Dabdoub's entry point to discussing innovation and progress in neurosurgery in Bolivia. The image was apt for our location of Santa Cruz de la Sierra, a beautiful, extensive Bolivian city surrounded by natural resources and food production. The agricultural image of opening a furrow, drawing a plow across the land to create a deep groove, brings to mind earth, water and nutrients that nurture the food that sustain life. 

Progress in neurosurgery in Bolivia has sustained the lives of individuals in need of  specialized treatment. Dr. Dabdoub spoke about the history of skull trepanation, of opening a hole in the skull, in the pre-Incan Andes.  During this time, the practice was a way for people to achieve social status and mystical powers by elongating the skull. Now a highly technical field of modern science, neurosurgery is a speciality sought and practiced by committed individuals, such as the 15 course participants and six Bolivian faculty in this course.

Surcos were also opened with US pediatric surgeon and Solidarity Bridge missioner, Dr. Art DiPatri, who spoke about common causes and effects of neurological issues in children and surgical procedures that can be used in their treatment. Presenting in Spanish, he provided studies and statistics on crucial surgical topics throughout the two-day course, drawing  commentary and questions by course participants and faculty that added to the strong learning environment. Dr. Richard Moser, medical director of the course, and Dr. Krista Greenan, who masterfully presented on Best Practices in the Use of Shunting Devices, also enhanced course content.

The image of furrows being opened became more than mere metaphor as the neurosurgeons took to the operating room for a simulcast surgery. Course participants watched in real time the surgery of a seven-year-old girl with hydrocephalus. This child and her mother had traveled nearly 300 miles from southern Bolivia seeking the treatment she needed. US and Bolivian faculty in the operating room and in the classroom provided commentary on Dr. DiPatri’s surgical strategy and procedures as part of the course.  

Solidarity Bridge courses contribute to professional development and exchange in Bolivia. I am grateful to have seen, first-hand, that the Program for the Development of Neurosurgery continues to turn the earth like a plow, opening furrows for the enhancement of neurosurgery, and a commitment among all in medicine to use these advanced skills to serve those in great need.


Gustavo Arreguín Mendoza is the Benezet Intern at Solidarity Bridge. Throughout September and October 2016 he will be living in Bolivia, joining each of our mission teams as an interpreter, and will work directly with our partners at Puente de Solidaridad. Born in Guanajuato, Mexico, Gustavo and his family moved to Evanston in 2005. He is a graduate of Loyola University Chicago and has been on two previous missions with Solidarity Bridge.