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Debbie: Heartfelt Thanks

  Martin and Omar 
  Originally uploaded by interplast.

Our days is La Paz have slipped through our fingers, across the great rock faces of the Andes, into last minute departure preparations. They have ended too fast. It is hard to believe that just two weeks ago, most of the team members met for the very first time. Although we come from across the U.S., Canada and Spain, our connection is as strong as we have ever felt. We will always carry with us the warmth and solidarity of the invisible bonds that make us, disparate and far flung as we may be, a family.

To say that this trip has made the world a little smaller might sound trite, but to see the outcome is to glimpse a profound truth behind the cliché.

On behalf of Interplast, the La Paz 2005 team, and the patients that we serve, we wish to extend our heartfelt thanks and sincere appreciation to the Million Dollar Round Table for your sponsorship. This trip has been, in no small measure, the fruition of their belief in and support of our work. You could say, quite literally, that it means the world to Interplast.

Fernando: What Can I say?

What can I say?  I can't describe how wonderful I feel to have been part of such a magnificent accomplishment.  The chemistry between the group; whenever we got together for dinner was like a huge family.  We were sharing dishes, trading barbs and just being loud and comfortable with each other.  You had your jokester, big brother, big sister, mother figure and siblings.  I truly feel like each member of the group took me under their wing.  I have learned important rules of the OR, basic OR instruments and how an OR works with such a fast pace.  I've never thought I would have full access to the OR, PACU (recovery room), Ward, and Dr. Martin’s therapy office.  Prior to the trip I thought that I was simply going to be an interpreter.  But I was treated as so much more than that. 

I am delighted to know that somehow I was a part of this awesome team, and I welcome another opportunity to be part of another Interplast trip because I saw with my own eyes how deeply the children’s lives are affected.  I wish I could stay and mingle with the locals and the group tomorrow at the party but my plane ticket says otherwise.  I’m sure that they will be having a great time, and I will miss them a lot. I am happy to say that I now know that there are people in this small world who genuinely care deeply about those less fortunate than themselves.

Rosemary: Sincere Appreciation

To our donors:

First of all, the team would like to thank you for your generous support to make this trip possible. We are also grateful for the opportunity to discover the needs of the Bolivian people, to be able to focus on a solution, and to bring hope and optimism to so many people who previously had no reason to hope.

When speaking about patients, we often speak of statistics, and individuals get lost in the similarities of their deformities.

But this trip has shown us the fears and hopes of 73 individuals, who have stolen our hearts over and over again. They will continue to inspire us as we plan our next trip to La Paz.

On behalf of Interplast, the entire team, and the patients that we served, I would like to extend my heartfelt thanks and sincere appreciation.

Martin: Nurse Education

  Nurse Education 
  Originally uploaded by interplast.

Teaching local doctors and nurses is one of Interplast's highest priorities. By sharing our knowledge, we help other countries become more self-sufficient.  Local doctors and nurses can perform many more surgeries over the course of a year than we can on a two week trip.  Each trip we try to teach as much as possible, and we usually get a great response.

Martin: Cute Kid

  Not Going to Play With the Scissors 
  Originally uploaded by interplast.

This is a cute kid waiting for the doctors to see him and check on his hand.

Martin: Coloring Books

  New Friends 
  Originally uploaded by interplast.

The children all have cool coloring books, and us doctors thought that if we took pictures with them, they kids would let us color with them.

Martin: Waiting

  Waiting for the Doctors 
  Originally uploaded by interplast.

A patient and her relative in the waiting room.

Debbie: A Humble Gift

Estefani is a tiny, wide-eyed child with a serious expression, who has been beset by an unmerited fate. When she was two years old, she was tragically scalded by boiling water. Scar tissue left her arm stuck in position. Her story might have ended there, but surgery performed by the Interplast team has given her a fuller range of motion.

I asked her if there anything that she would like to do now that she couldn’t do before. Her serious expression is transformed into a broad grin as she shows me the drawings that she has made during her recovery: of her family, of seven-legged dogs, of teddy bears that look more like cats, and of the Bolivian flag. She is so grateful to the doctors, that she offers me a humble gift of one of her pictures, to ease the balance a bit.

Martin: A Brave Kid

  Paul, Tom, and Juan Pablo 
  Originally uploaded by interplast.

Paul and Tom are shown here with Juan Pablo before his surgery.  He was a brave kid, and showed no fear before what must have been a scary experience for him.

Martin: Dr. Pedro

  Dr. Pedro 
  Originally uploaded by interplast.

Dr. Pedro performing surgery on a patient.

Martin: Anesthesiologists

  Anesthesiologists Tom, John, and Paul 
  Originally uploaded by interplast.

Here are Anesthesiologists Tom, John, and Paul.

Martin: Lake Titicaca

  The Team at Lake Titicaca 
  Originally uploaded by interplast.

On Sunday we took a needed break and headed to Lake Titicaca.  Here we are enjoying the lakeside breeze.

Debbie: Fuels Our Determination

Since 1100 AD, descendants of the Aymara & Inca empires have traversed the expanse of the altiplano, or high plateau, to descend into the crater-like valley of La Paz. Not much has changed. But today the journey for our patients is different. They come in search of the holy grail; on the chance that they will be among the lucky ones eligible for surgery. Ten year old Miguel is among them. His hands are grotesquely swollen and deformed from a rare congenital disease.

His reality stirs a discomfort in us, because we see in him what we might have been. He is the reality that we escaped because we were born, by chance, undeformed. He is a reminder of everything that we take for granted. Children with deformities live robbed of childhood, with no claim on this happy world.

But fate has conspired against Miguel once again. Sadly, he cannot be helped with surgery. As he whispers aching secrets in his mother´s ear, the agonized look of disappointment on her face twists our hearts into knots. It is almost too much to bear. The physical and emotional toll that this journey has taken on Miguel and his mother weighs heavy on our hearts, but their disappointment fuels our determination to carry out our mission.

Fernando: We Somehow Communicate

  Friends Awaiting Surgery 
  Originally uploaded by interplast.

I am having such an awesome time. Yesterday, I had me some GI, but other than that, the rest of the team and I are just great. When I am in the OR looking at what is going on, Jeff, Pedro, Tom, Paul, Mary, Dawn or anyone else will stop what they are doing to let me know. I frequently ask questions, and I think they are getting used to me bugging them for answers. Since I was sick yesterday all day long they were constantly asking me how I felt and if needed medicine. I really feel that we have become very close.

Translating for the team is a bit hard at times because I don’t know very many medical terms in either Spanish or English. But we somehow communicate with the locals, which I must say are very appreciative of our services. One thing that I do get kind of annoyed by is how the locals in the hospital keep calling me "Doctor". I do wear scrubs, so I can understand the confusion, but when possible I tell them that I am not a doctor; just an interpreter.

Martin: In Need of Rest

  Martin and Friends 
  Originally uploaded by interplast.

Today is Friday and the end of the 1st week, I cannot believe how fast the week has gone by. Today we had clinic again and again more than 100 people showed up waiting for surgery. All of the surgeries this week were performed without complications. Our group has worked extremely well together and the local staff has been terrific. The team is tired and in need of this weekend rest, we plan a trip to Lake Titicaca. This evening Dr Jeff, Dr Mary and myself were on the unit doing rounds before going home.

Martin: Adios

  Juan Pablo the Artist 
  Originally uploaded by interplast.

Our last stop was that of the room of a little boy who just had hand surgery that day. He asked me to come closer so he could tell me something and then wrapped his arms around
my neck in a bear hug. We left the unit at about 7:30 in the evening and the last thing we heard as we left the unit was a little boy far down the hall calling "Martin...addios...... Martin.........."

Debbie: Inexpressible Joy

Bolivia is only a six hour flight from Miami, but culturally it is about as far away as you can get. Each day our love for this place deepens, perhaps because it is the country of our patients. The great rock faces of the magnificent Andes Mountains, women in bowler hats, good-natured haggling in the marketplace, brightly woven textiles and pan flute music will always be among our fond memories. The exotic beauty of this country fuses in our hearts with our patients´ hopes, their laughter, and sometimes their tears.

Their names are a symphony of exotic-sounding names, like Teresa Andrea Cortez Quispe. Teresa is a young child with ancient eyes and a disfigured syndactyl hand, fused together like a mitten. When she enters the clinic, she gives me an awkward smile, like it is something that she is practicing, but has not yet mastered. Her quiet demeanor makes the clinic seem noisy. There is something magical about this child, and I become aware that she watches and observes and knows more than she speaks.

When the doctors pronounce Teresa eligible for surgery, her eyes light up, as if these words hold the answer to her most fervent prayers. Her mother tells me that we have brought inexpressible joy and hope to the people of Bolivia. It is the third time that I have heard it today.

Martin: Dedication and Generosity

I just want to take this opportunity to thank the generous sponsors of this Interplast trip to La Paz, Bolivia, The MDRT Foundation, The Allergan Foundation, and The Danellie Foundation all came together to support this life-changing trip to help the children of Bolivia. The Million Dollar Round Table (MDRT) is a member-driven international network of leading insurance and investment financial services professionals/advisors; The Allergan Foundation is the philanthropic arm of Allergan, Inc., a technology-driven, global health care company that develops and commercializes specialty pharmaceutical products for the ophthalmic, neurological, dermatological and other specialty markets. The whole team thanks these sponsors for their dedication and generosity to the children of Interplast.

Martin: A Difficult Task

  Boy With Rare Bone Cancer 
  Originally uploaded by interplast.

Mary (the pediatrician) and I were assigned the task of triaging the patients waiting in the lobby and out the door into the parking lot. Our job was to select patients who we thought our team could make a major difference or change in their lives. We went one by one and interviewed and screened these people, and we had the difficult task of turning many of the prospective patients away. Even though they could benefit from hand surgery, we simply did not have the time to accommodate them. The process was heart breaking.

Martin: Another Clinc Day

  He's a Big Boy 
  Originally uploaded by interplast.

Today is Wednesday, the third day of working at the hospital.  Monday was clinic day and we had over 100 patients to evaluate and screen.  It was very difficult because most everyone needed our help, but we were able to select a weeks worth of surgeries out of the 100 that came to clinic.  Today, Wednesday was another clinic day and again more than 100 people came to be evaluated by the surgeons.  Both of the surgeons, Pedro and Jeff, had a full case load of surgeries but came in between surgeries to evaluate patients.

Thanks, Interplast

  Thanks, Interplast. 
  Originally uploaded by interplast.

A happy little kid.

Martin: We'll Miss You, Bev

  Sick Bev 
  Originally uploaded by interplast.

Unfortunately, Beverly Kent has had to return home. She had extreme altitude sickness (La Paz is over 12,000 ft high), and she was too ill to continue contributing. She was really sad to leave as she got along with the team really well, but for her own safety had to return to a lower elevation. The team wishes her well, and hopes that she keeps checking the blog to see how we're doing. We miss you, Bev!

Rosemary: International Nursing Symposium

  Jogi Comforting a Patient 
  Originally uploaded by interplast.

My name is Rosemary Welde R.N., and I am the team leader of the La Paz, Bolivia trip.

We saw over 130 patients in the pre-op clinic on Monday and now have had two surgery days. We are doing hand surgeries on the poor people in Bolivia. There is only one hand surgeon in the entire country. We have seventeen members on our team who are working very hard, but the high altitude (over 12,000 feet) has been challenging for us.

This week we had our first international nursing symposium in La Paz, and over 200 nurses from around the country have come to hear our lectures. Next week, there will be a hand symposium for the doctors about the hand surgeries and latest techniques and treatments for various types of patients.

Debbie: Bound Together

  Clinic Day 
  Originally uploaded by interplast.

If the well worn addage is indeed true, that "he profits most who serves best," then the Interplast medical team has amassed a fortune in good humanitarian deeds.

They are a blur of blue hospital scrubs, foot covers, masks, and a passion that is so profound that it is almost a tangible part of their attire. There is a halo of confidence sported by people who are absolutely certain of their mission. They are so dedicated, so unanimous in their commitment, that sometimes it seems that they are bound together by telepathy.

Debbie: Please Help My Child

  All Bundled Up 
  Originally uploaded by interplast.

Today is opening clinic and patients are huddled together on the narrow benches that line the halls. It is not the surgery that frightens them. It is the alien atmosphere of the hospital. They long for their familiar streets, their colorful markets and the serene beauty of their terraced fields.

Inside the examination room, the doctors consult about a skin graft for Teresa. She became engulfed in flames when she was four years old, leaving her hands grotesquely disfigured. Her recovery has been physically and mentally excruciating, since it is human nature to stare at someone who is different from the norm. Teresa´s mother, Dona Hortensia, looks at me intently, then speaks so slowly that her words are almost a prayer: "Please help my child." I know that if we are able to do so, this will be more than just a surgery. It will be a cherished gift from Interplast, from our donors, from the people of America, Canada and Spain.