Local doctors treat kids at clinic in Peru
A doctor in training at Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin had a chance encounter with a retired cardiologist who dreamed of building a muchneeded hospital in his native Peru.
That meeting at a photo exhibit wound up giving surgeons at Children’s a front-row seat for the planning and construction of that hospital in the Amazon jungle village of Yantalo, and an opportunity to treat children who lacked access to health care.
“I think all of us in medicine entered the field because of a sense of altruistic hope. So when the opportunity came to partner and do this in a part of the world where there’s really a need, we’ve gone there and done that,” said Keith Oldham, surgeon in chief at Children’s Hospital and a nine-time volunteer in Peru.
That partnership began a decade ago after C. Luis Vasquez, and his La Crosse-born wife, Mary, formed the Yantalo Peru Foundation with an eye toward improving the agricultural village where his mother had grown up, about 400 miles north of Lima.
“When I first stepped foot here, I was filled with rage because I thought in 100 years nothing has changed, and it can’t go on like this,” Vasquez says in a recently completed documentary about the hospital project. The film was screened at Children’s Hospital last month.
It took seven years longer than he hoped, but the modern clinic named for his mother, Adelina Soplin, formally opened last year. It is staffed by rotating teams of doctors and other medical personnel from Children’s, which was the first hospital on board, as well as physicians from the University of Michigan, Johns Hopkins, and other medical centers in the United States and around the world.
Word spread quickly in the village and beyond. Patients are not required to pay.
“People know that we’re coming. So now when we go, people come from all over the country, sometimes driving up and over the Andes, sometimes in canoes and on bicycles and on foot,” Oldham said.
Doctors perform a variety of surgeries, though nothing too complicated because the facility lacks an intensive care unit. This is surgery on a
shoestring compared to the facilities at Children’s Hospital. Doctors from here take their turn in Yantalo every September for 10 to 14 days.
Another veteran surgeon at Children’s who has been in it from the start is Tom Sato. He’ll never forget the village child whose esophagus never fully developed. For 12 years, the boy was fed through a tube into his stomach.
“A number of colleagues from around the world were with us, and none of us had actually ever seen a child that age survive and thrive for 12 years without having the esophagus reconstructed,” Sato said.
He and another Children’s Hospital doctor, Casey Calkins, performed the surgery six years ago and have checked on the patient, now a young man, three times since then.
Oldham and the others are working on a succession plan to assure that younger doctors will step up and continue traveling from Wisconsin to serve the clinic.
“No one person is going to transform everything on the planet,” Oldham said. “But we have tried consistently to go to one place and educate people and provide care to the children in this community.”
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C. Luis Vasquez (left), who had a dream of building a hospital in the village in Peru where his mother was from, shows the site to surgeon Keith Oldham and other volunteers from Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin.
Construction went slower than expected, but finally a hospital opened in the village of Yantalo in the Amazon jungle of Peru. It is staffed by doctors from Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin and other volunteers from medical centers worldwide.
This child looks happy with the treatment she received at the new hospital in rural Peru that is served by volunteer doctors and trainees from Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin and other medical personnel from around the world.