Then and Now: Neurosurgery
In honor of our 20th Anniversary, we are taking a look back at how some of our programs started, and where they are today. This month, we reflect on our Neurosurgery Program.
In 2006, on the first mission trip of the Neurosurgery Program, 12-year-old Gardenia’s life was saved. Gardenia had a progressively worsening condition in which her spine was being split by a bone protrusion and her spinal cord was tethered. Before her surgery, her mother pleaded, “I want her to live and remain with us. Don’t let her die.” US surgeon, Dr. Roberta Glick and Bolivian surgeon Dr. Gueider Salas, performed Gardenia’s operation, using a neurosurgical operating microscope that Solidarity Bridge had recently delivered. She underwent surgery at one hospital and began her recuperation at another. Both hospitals partner with Solidarity Bridge and Puente de Solidaridad and began collaborating more extensively through this partnership to provide care for vulnerable patients.
Providing equipment, like the neurosurgical operating microscope, and training in advanced surgical techniques is the key to our Neurosurgery Program.
Solidarity Bridge founder, Juan Lorenzo Hinojosa and board member, Dr. Richard Moser, have been a driving force behind our work in this specialty. From the beginning, the program goal has been to partner with mission-minded professionals to raise the level of neurosurgical care throughout Bolivia, especially to serve patients who have the least access to care. Equipment donations and professional training are critical, but none of this work would be possible without the fierce advocacy of Bolivian neurosurgeons. They have led the charge for these growth opportunities inside their hospitals in Santa Cruz, La Paz, Cochabamba, and elsewhere.
Collaborating with an international faculty, we have conducted 17 training courses, including two highly intensive resident boot camps. Our mission trips have also focused on mentoring in spinal surgery, pediatric neurosurgery, and trans nasal endoscopic surgery. Using the latest techniques and equipment, our local counterparts are now achieving results that were unattainable in the past.
Our partner surgeons have treated hundreds of patients and more than 40 Bolivian neurosurgeons and ENTs have participated in our neurosurgical missions and courses, many also serve as faculty for the courses. In the words of Dr. Moser, “we’ve created a self-sustaining model in which people are cared for whether we are present or not.”
Today, many of our earliest partners in the major cities no longer require basic training and have moved on to perfecting more advanced techniques and handling more complex cases. These Bolivian advocates for the advancement of neurosurgery have gone beyond providing advanced care in their own practices and have dedicated themselves to sharing their knowledge among their colleagues and the next generation of neurosurgical residents.
Through more than 13 years of this work, deep friendships have formed among the professionals on both sides of our bridge. In addition to our more than 22 mission trips, these connections continue through digital consultations and Solidarity Visits to the U.S. Puente de Solidaridad Executive Director, Patricia Vargas shared, “The Bolivian neurosurgical community greatly values the support that we provide. It is not only a professional relationship but also a friendship. We have become a bridge that brings this community together.”
While professional exchange is a primary component of our program, surgeries on individual patients are among the most meaningful and profound experiences for all involved. Our patients have included babies born with spinal deformities, women and men with chronic headaches and vision loss due to tumor activity, and accident victims requiring spinal repair.
One patient in particular stands out as a case that exemplifies the need for both equipment and training. Twenty nine year old, Alfredo had suffered severe injuries to his spine in a highway accident. His local surgeon, Dr. Marco Antonio Fernandez assessed the need for a spinal fusion, but the hospital lacked the grafting material needed for the complex surgery that would realign his spine. Knowing that a Solidarity Bridge mission team was arriving soon, Dr. Fernandez immobilized Alfredo until they came. Dr. John Weaver, an expert in spinal surgery from the University of Massachusetts Amherst, joined Dr. Fernandez in the OR. Using implantable materials provided by Globus and Atlas Medical, they performed a successful spinal fusion and restored Alfredo’s mobility.
While there has been much progress to celebrate, our Bolivian colleagues continue to request support and invite our collaboration in their work. In smaller cities, with a less established neurological infrastructure, more hands-on instruction and foundational equipping is still required. One of the ongoing challenges of the program is to respond to the varied levels of equipping and training needs prioritized in different regions of the country.
As we look to the future of our Neurosurgery Program, which includes a new long-term partnership with the Hospital Santa Barbara in Sucre, and new partnerships in Paraguay, we hope to continue meeting the training and equipping needs of our surgical partners, so that they can best serve the patients in their care.
At Solidarity Bridge we envision a just, compassionate, and interdependent world, where the health needs of those most vulnerable are prioritized and medical professionals have the necessary resources to serve their communities. But we need your help to make this vision a reality! Can you do one of the following:
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