One in Shared Faith

Written by Rachel McDonnell

Troubling symptoms and a difficult diagnosis can turn your life upside-down. For the past two years, this has been the case for Shirley, our first patient of the week.

Shirley is a young woman who lived independently in the department of Tarija working as a nurse when she started to notice that things weren’t quite right with her health. She was referred to an endocrinologist and discovered her cortisol levels were elevated. The hormone your body produces when you’re under stress was in overdrive and causing chaos for Shirley.

She experienced headaches and gained a significant amount of weight in a short period of time. The endocrinologist prescribed a treatment but it didn’t provide the results they had hoped, so Shirley was referred to a neurosurgeon in La Paz. She left her job and her home, taking time out to focus on her health. She scheduled her first surgery and moved back in with her family to seek the care and support she needed. Unfortunately, the doctors in La Paz discovered a brain tumor. They performed two neurosurgeries, but her health did not return to normal.     

Neurosurgery is a complex specialty. New techniques and tools are continually emerging. To treat brain tumors, multiple surgeries are often needed to find and remove the tumor. Such was the case for Shirley. Through an open cranial procedure, the doctors were not able to remove 100% of the tumor and it continued to grow.

Dr. Martin Aliaga, a Solidarity Bridge partner who works in La Paz, recommended that Shirley travel to Santa Cruz to be examined during our mission. Dr. Aliaga had been a faculty member on a previous neurosurgery training course in endoscopic skull base surgery, and he thought that this different approach might benefit Shirley’s case. Before her surgery on Monday she was  visited by members of our mission team.

“We met with Shirley just before they took her into the OR and she seemed to be at peace. I asked her if she was really feeling calm or if she was nervous,” said Lindsay Doucette, Senior Director of Programs from Solidarity Bridge. “She told me that she was indeed calm, that she was grateful to be having this operation, and that she had a strong faith in God that helped her in situations like these.” Together, with shared faith, they prayed for healing and she was taken to the OR.

The surgery was successful, and Drs. Moser, Vaezi and Mariani believe they were able to fully remove Shirley’s tumor. But she will still require follow-up care and testing in the months to come to monitor her symptoms and ensure that the tumor does not return.

Just as we joined Shirley in prayer before her surgery, we begin each of our mission trips with an opening ritual. It is a moment in time to center ourselves before the work ahead. We hope for the mission to be successful but we know, just as with many of our patients, follow-up care will be needed. Our follow-up care in mission is a form of accompaniment. We continue to build relationships with our colleagues in Bolivia and we commit to accompany them in their efforts to advance the health care system in which they work. Together we advocate for access to critical surgical care and with a shared faith in a better future, we step forward into a new day.

Rachel McDonnell is the Director of Development and Communications at Solidarity Bridge. 

The Program for the Development of Neurosurgery is a partnership of Solidarity Bridge and Puente de Solidaridad. Under the leadership of Dr. Richard Moser and other top US neurosurgeons, we are raising the level of neurosurgery in Bolivia. Our mission teams have been the first to introduce several neurosurgical advancements in the country, while restoring quality of life to patients who had nowhere else to turn for treatment. Plans are also moving forward to form the first Epilepsy Center in Bolivia. Learn more about our Neurosurgery program