Story of Hope | May 12, 2022

Maria walked 5 hours for the chance to get an open heart surgery


Chagas disease.

Unless you live somewhere in Latin America, you may never have even heard of this parasitic disease. It is transmitted by what is commonly known as “the kissing bug” – an insect that often lives in the walls and roofs of adobe, thatched, or mud homes. At night, the bugs emerge and bite the home’s inhabitants, leaving behind a parasite.

Many people who have Chagas disease may not even have symptoms…for a while. But if the condition is not diagnosed and not treated in a timely manner, Chagas can be severe and life-threatening, causing a host of other systemic problems, including heart complications.

That’s what happened to María, a 49-year-old woman who lives in the rural town of Aiquile, Bolivia. Ten years ago, her heart condition had deteriorated so much that she required a pacemaker implant, which she was fortunately able to receive through a medical mission organization.

But now, a decade later, the pacemaker needed a new battery. María had no money to pay for a heart operation – she and her husband were subsistence farmers, and the meager income that her adult son was able to contribute to the household only amounted to about 600 bolivianos, the equivalent of $86 dollars. She and her family lived in an adobe home with a dirt floor and a tin roof, and they had no access to water or sanitation. By most standards, the family lived in extreme poverty.

Thankfully, the Bolivian government sponsors Plataforma Chagas, a program that supports Chagas patients within the country. Plataforma Chagas connected María with surgeons from Puente de Solidaridad (Solidarity Bridge), a MAP partner, who were able to perform the operation she needed to and implant a brand-new pacemaker.

María understood what an incredible opportunity this was, to have a second heart surgery done, free of charge, and she willingly walked the 5 hours to the next town to catch a ride on a bus for another 5 hours, just to get to the Solidary Bridge office in Cochabamba.

There in Cochabamba, María got the help that she needed. Surgeons used sutures and other supplies from MAP to perform the operation successfully, and María is recovering well. Plataforma Chagas will help make sure that she is able to return to Cochabamba for regular follow-up care. Thanks to the skilled Solidarity Bridge surgeons and generous donors like MAP, María can return home and continue life with her family without fear of her pacemaker suddenly failing.


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