The Joy of Healing
Many of the patients we treat suffer distinct effects of Chagas disease, a parasitic illness particularly prevalent among people in Bolivia with limited economic means. Advanced Chagas disease can affect the heart, esophagus, or colon. For an unlucky few, it may damage two or more of these organs. Such was the case with 32-year-old Victor, a young father from Santa Cruz.
In 2009, complications from Chagas required surgeons to remove a diseased portion of Victor’s colon. After a long recovery, he returned to work operating heavy construction equipment. But in recent months, Victor struggled to swallow food. Doctors at San Juan de Dios Hospital diagnosed esophageal achalasia: the Chagas parasite had destroyed Victor’s lower esophagus to the point that it could not properly contract and expand, making it impossible for him to eat normally.
When the Solidarity Bridge team met Victor in advance of a general surgery mission trip in August 2017, he was subsisting on a liquid diet, losing weight at an alarming rate, and too weak to work. The team also met Victor’s wife, Rosa, five months pregnant with the couple’s second child. As the family’s sole breadwinner, Victor earned about US $362 per month. “I’m very worried because my son is so young and my wife is expecting another child,” Victor said prior to his surgery. “But I’m also very hopeful that I can get this surgery even though I have no financial resources. I wish the doctors who will operate all the best—may God bless them.”
Among those Victor blessed was the mission team surgeon, Dr. Magued Khouzam, who had learned of Victor’s case before arriving in Bolivia and brought the instruments needed to perform a laparoscopic procedure. Working through small incisions in the abdomen, the team opened the muscles surrounding the lower esophagus and then reinforced the area with a section of the upper stomach.
Just one day after his surgery—a success—Victor was overjoyed to have recovered his ability to swallow. The US and Bolivian partner surgeons closely monitored his recovery, and after five days, Victor went home on a diet of soft food. Within six weeks, he expected to transition to regular food—and would return to work to support his family before the baby’s arrival
In a photo of Victor and Magued taken after the surgery, it’s hard to tell who is happier or more grateful. When we live and serve in solidarity, such moments bring joy—both to healers and the healed.