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Interplast La Paz Team

Doctor and Patient France Leclerc, Interplast board member.

I have heard many times that Interplast team members are highly trained and highly skilled professionals, so it is not a great surprise to see that this is the case for this La Paz team.  However, what surprised me is how warm and comforting the team members are.  Anesthesiologists and recovery room nurses bring patients back in such a gentle way.  I see them caring, hugging, rocking little kids to make them feel better.  The pediatrician makes sure the patients have all they need.   It is also quite emotional to see the nurses bring the kids back to the anxious parents after surgery. Witnessing the joy and relief of the parents is very moving.


Anesthesiologist with Patient La Paz, Bolivia- Loan Le, Interplast volunteer anesthesiologist.

I can not tell you how grateful I am that I have proficient grasp of the Spanish language. It has added a whole other dimension of enjoyment to this trip. The other day, I had dropped off Fernando, an adorable boy who had surgery on his arm, to the recovery room. A half hour later I heard Fernando was awake and extremely restless.

I entered the recovery room to find three nurses trying to calm him down.  I sat down at his bedside and asked him why he was crying. Fernando opened his eyes and said, "Doctorcita, donde estoy?"(Doctor, where am I?) What followed was a slew of questions: Who are these people? Why is there red on my arm? (blood soaking through his bandage) As he asked each question, he would close his eyes to ponder and digest the answer I offered him. When he finally ran out of questions, he simply closed his eyes to rest. It turns out he was just freaked out after waking up from anesthesia. Imagine waking up all by yourself in a room full of foreign medical staff trying to calm you down. I stroked his forehead and told him to get some sleep and that he’d see his parents when he woke up. He nodded, sighed and then fell into a peaceful slumber.

Surgery Day France Leclerc, Interplast board member.

Today was the first day of surgeries and it is my first time “awake” in an operating room.       I am impressed by the hard work everybody has to put in and the teamwork involved.  Anesthesiologists, surgeons and insanely busy OR nurses all do their best. Some of these surgeries go on for hours. Dr. Jorge Terraza, our host in La Paz, is very involved with the team.  Local residents are there to assist, as are local nurses.  It is clear that the training mission of Interplast is an important component of the team’s visit in La Paz.  The effort is amazing. Days are long, people are tired, but nobody complains.

The Studious Lisbeth

Patient Awaiting Surgery France Leclerc, Interplast board member.

Lisbeth is 10 years old. During clinic day I could sense a hint of worry in her eyes. Later I found out she was more deeply preoccupied with missing school than with the surgery she was being scheduled to receive.  Lisbeth was scheduled to have her extra thumb amputated the next day.

After seeing Lisbeth I looked around the room of patients who gathered hoping for help. There were many burn victims, patients suffering from debilitating arthritis and congenital malformations.  The need is great, but the team is ready to do as much as it can in two weeks.  It is a very moving day. 

Emerson’s Argument

Patient with X-Ray France Leclerc, Interplast board member.

Emerson is a precocious 7-year-old boy with whom I was very impressed on clinic day.  He walked into the room and proceeded to explain to the medical team why he did not need surgery and carefully referenced his x-ray. Fortunately for him, the team was not convinced by his arguments.      I am sure he will be happy with the outcome, but I understand his fear of the process. 


Patient Scheduled For Surgery France Leclerc, Interplast board member.

Our first patient was Eddyn, a shy but sweet 2-year-old.  His mother was very relieved to learn her son would be scheduled to receive surgery the next day.  When I took the picture above, she was happy to smile for both of them.

Just As Expected

Clinic Day: La Paz, Bolivia France Leclerc, Interplast board member.

Clinic day is when potential patients are evaluated and decisions are made as to whether the team can perform surgery on a given patient or offer needed physical therapy.  I had been told that this would be chaotic as large crowds usually show up.  It was indeed the case. People in line were from all over the country; they waited for hours and, as they did, hoped for help.

Dealing with the Altitude

4510_86845332116_558277116_2327356_4413029_n La Paz, Bolivia- Loan Le, Interplast volunteer anesthesiologist.

Today we spent some time walking around and trying to acclimate to the altitude. The key is to stay hydrated, and we are taking altitude medication that helps prevent altitude sickness. Despite my best efforts, I could not avoid a gnawing headache for a good part of the morning. Being at this high altitude means we're closer to the sun, so on sunny days, it is 10 degrees warmer than the actual temperature predicted. If you plan on coming here, bring sunscreen, dark shades, and a wide-brimmed hat.

Bolivia’s Blue Sky

N558277116_2305006_5656768 La Paz, Bolivia- Loan Le, Interplast volunteer anesthesiologist.

We arrived in La Paz at 5:30 a.m.; going through customs was haphazard, but easy enough. La Paz is located 12,008 ft above sea level. As we left the airport I was struck with two thoughts: it's beautiful here, high up where the blue skies are oh so blue, and wow this air is thin!

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