Rogelio, age 12, is the second of five children of Maria Luisa from the community of San José Anzaldo outside of Cochabamba, Bolivia. Maria Luisa’s husband and the father of her four oldest children died six years ago, and the father of her baby daughter abandoned her. The older children and community leaders help Maria Luisa plant corn, wheat, and alfalfa, which she sells as animal feed to bring in around US $100 a month. Their two-room home is an older adobe construction with a thatch roof and dirt floors, where the family sleeps on mats. Water is carried from a nearby stream, and the children do their homework by candlelight.
Given the family’s circumstances, it is not unusual that Rogelio’s long-term health problems were never properly addressed. He pushed through frequent colds, headaches, and fatigue. As the oldest son, he was expected to carry the heaviest load in the planting and harvesting of the family’s crops, but he struggled to keep up with even his younger siblings. A pediatrician at the town health center had diagnosed Rogelio with a congenital heart defect involving his aortic valve, but the health care system would not cover the complex surgery he needed.
In September 2014, news reached town that a medical mission trip to the nearby Tiquipaya Hospital would include a visiting cardiologist. Solidarity Bridge missioner, Dr. Mark Ottolin, verified the diagnosis of aortic stenosis. The valve connecting Rogelio’s left heart ventricle to the aorta was too narrow to permit proper blood flow. The only solution was to replace his aortic valve.
Rogelio was immediately referred to the Solidarity Bridge open heart surgery program. The family met with social workers at the Puente de Solidaridad office, where 14-year-old Bertha spoke on her mother’s behalf:
I am going to speak because my mother doesn’t know Spanish and is very quiet; she is afraid to talk to people she doesn’t know. … We are alone with no family to help us. We work as much as we can in the fields … eating what we plant. That is why we asked for help for Rogelio to get better.
On March 25, 2015, Rogelio underwent aortic valve replacement surgery at Clínica Belga in Cochabamba, in the care of Dr. Carlos Brockman. The generosity of Isaac and Renee Goff of Dharma Trading Company helped make this long-needed and especially complex surgery possible. Rogelio’s case has also been supported over the years by other organizations and individuals, including the Mancomundad de Caine, the Defensoría del Niñez, and even the village priest. They as well as community leaders and even local school teachers have long looked out for Rogelio and all of María Luisa’s children, and helped obtain his initial diagnosis. But they could never afford his surgery.
María Luisa struggles greatly to overcome her social condition, and it is hard for her to even ask for help. Fortunately, there were many guardian angels watching over Rogelio. His health is greatly improving, and he continues to be closely monitored in the hope he can finally begin to live a normal life.