PANW Providers Treat Children in Bolivia
In April, three pediatricians from Pediatric Associates of the Northwest packed up their stethoscopes and a supply of medications, and flew to Bolivia with a team of twenty-two to provide medical care to an underprivileged community. Dr. Laura Dahl, Dr. Mari Kay Evans-Smith, and Dr. Jay Rosenbloom have all been to Haiti for similar Medical Team trips, but Bolivia was a new experience.
“I don’t think we ever treated quite so many people in a week,” reports Dr. Dahl. “It worked, though, because we had so much amazing support from the local community in Bolivia. Still…863 patients for five providers over the course of a week is many more than we would see in Portland.”
Dr. Rosenbloom says “It was great to be so integrated into the culture there. We even got to meet the mayor.”
Dr. Evans-Smith adds, “The most inspiring aspect of this medical team trip was the collaboration we were able to have with our host group. Medical care is difficult to obtain and expensive in Bolivia. We worked together via email to create protocols and handouts that would be culturally relevant and helpful for the Bolivian patients. We had a local social worker, dietitian, nurses, interpreters, and many medical and nursing students all helping out the team. They told us what would work best in their community and we offered some work flow suggestions. They taught us about chikungunya (a prevalent viral infection spread by mosquitos)! We are excited to return next year and build on that relationship.”
Dr. Dahl treated a 10-year-old little boy who was repeating the first grade for the third time. His mother didn’t know why he was struggling so much with school and was seeking some answers. Dr. Dahl examined the boy and talked to him, unconvinced that the boy was developmentally delayed. She asked his mother if he’d ever had his vision tested. He hadn’t. Dr. Dahl sent him to her fellow volunteers at the clinic who performed vision testing, and sure enough, the boy was quite far-sighted. After he was fitted with eyeglasses, his face lit up, a wide smile came across his face, and he ran around the clinic looking closely at people’s faces. “You could tell he was amazed by the detail he was seeing, possibly for the first time. It is remarkable to think that after several years struggling in school, a dollar-store pair of eyeglasses changed this boy’s life,” says Dr. Dahl.
Dr. Rosenbloom noted that “For the most part, parents have the same worries and concerns everywhere you go. But poor nutrition and lack of resources contribute to more health issues in Bolivia, at least where we were working.” He describes an ulcer on the leg of one diabetic patient; it had been bothering her for more than two years. “It just would not heal. We could treat the wound, and give her some diabetes medication, but we know it would eventually run out. Unless she can treat her diabetes with medication on a regular basis, it would not be controlled and her wound would likely not heal. That is discouraging. But we do the best we can for people with what we have, just as they’re doing the best they can, living under these circumstances on a daily basis.” Some diabetic patients had blood sugar levels as high as the 600s (normal fasting blood sugar is under 100). Many patients simply lacked the resources to buy medication on a regular basis, as is necessary to treat diabetes.
Dr. Rosenbloom says, “It really does make you truly appreciate that even with all the inefficiencies and frustrations with our health care systems and government, we have it pretty good. I saw three kids in Bolivia who were lacking ear canals. In the U.S., we’d repair that. It’s not so simple there. My kids sometimes joke about our ‘first world problems.’ But after spending some time in a developing country with such limited resources, you remember that ‘first world problems’ is not just an expression. It’s real.”
Dr. Dahl, Dr. Evans-Smith, and Dr. Rosenbloom are also grateful for the support of PANW and the generous support of their patients’ families who’ve provided supplies and funding that help make these medical trips possible. Pediatric Associates of the Northwest and its extended community continue to prove they care about people here at home and beyond.