Doctors provide free health care in Bolivia

September 5, 2009

 Doctors, interpreters and volunteers from Harrisonburg to Pittsburgh to Georgia boarded planes on Friday and headed south to Bolivia. 

They’ve gone to work with Mission of Hope: Bolivia, a Charlottesville-based Christian nonprofit organizatio that founded a free clinic in Santa Cruz, Bolivia. The clinic provides free medical care year-round, but twice a year, American surgeons visit the clinic to perform surgeries for a week at a time.

Gaby Urgo, who teaches at Grace Christian School in Staunton and does administrative work for Mission of Hope, said the people treated at the clinic are extremely poor, and because the health care system in Bolivia requires people to pay in full before receiving treatment, they often do without.

“Most of them just don’t have money to pay for a doctor. They have lived for years with the condition that they have,” Urgo said. “The people who come to us usually have been waiting for years because they don’t have the money.”

In March, doctors perform ear, nose and throat surgeries and in September they perform general and gynecological surgeries. The procedures range in complexity, from removing an appendix or tumor to performing a hysterectomy for a long-prolapsed uterus. Urgo said the doctors work long hours during their visits to the clinic, often performing between 65 and 70 surgeries in five days.

Cindy Thacker of Charlottesville opened the clinic in 2002 after seeing poor health care conditions in an existing community clinic when she was in Bolivia to adopt three of her children. Since she started the Mission of Hope, the clinic has treated more than 100,000 patients, according to the organization’s Web site, and more than 1,000 people have received free surgeries since 2003. The clinic provides pre- and post-operative care, medicine and food to patients. Staff also leads prayer and worship services there.

This is the 13th trip to the Santa Cruz clinic for Dr. Carl Lynch, an anesthesiologist who teaches at the University of Virginia. He calls the weeks at the Mission of Hope “refreshing” because the doctors there devote themselves completely to serving patients without worrying about billing. He also said the need in Santa Cruz is less preventable than what he sees in America.

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“A lot of the care we provide in the United States is, quite frankly, for self-inflicted disease. That’s not a problem there,” Lynch said, explaining there is hardly any obesity or smoking among his patients in Santa Cruz. “Most of the things we have (in Bolivia) is due to poor health care because there is no government system.”

Lynch said the treatment patients receive at the Mission of Hope clinic rivals any American community hospital in quality.

Marianne Kennel of Harrisonburg and her husband, Dr. Elmer Kennel of Harrisonburg’s Rockingham Memorial Hospital, visit the clinic every fall. He performs surgeries, and she helps coordinate meals and therapy for the patients. Marianne said a trip to the clinic seems to have a transformative effect on the patients.

“You go there and you see them when they’re first admitted and they’re all scared and nervous,” Marinne said, explaining that English-speaking doctors can seem intimidating, but patients often warm up to them after a few days in a clean building with good meals. “By the time they leave, they just want to give you hugs.”

The team will perform surgeries from Monday to Friday and will return on Sept. 12. Mission of Hope is constructing a second clinic in the Bolivian city of Sucre.

“A lot of the care we provide in the United States is, quite frankly, for self-inflicted disease. That’s not a problem there,” Lynch said, explaining there is hardly any obesity or smoking among his patients in Santa Cruz. “Most of the things we have (in Bolivia) is due to poor health care because there is no government system.”

Lynch said the treatment patients receive at the Mission of Hope clinic rivals any American community hospital in quality.

Marianne Kennel of Harrisonburg and her husband, Dr. Elmer Kennel of Harrisonburg’s Rockingham Memorial Hospital, visit the clinic every fall. He performs surgeries, and she helps coordinate meals and therapy for the patients. Marianne said a trip to the clinic seems to have a transformative effect on the patients.

“You go there and you see them when they’re first admitted and they’re all scared and nervous,” Marinne said, explaining that English-speaking doctors can seem intimidating, but patients often warm up to them after a few days in a clean building with good meals. “By the time they leave, they just want to give you hugs.”

The team will perform surgeries from Monday to Friday and will return on Sept. 12. Mission of Hope is constructing a second clinic in the Bolivian city of Sucre.

Source: Newsleader.com

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