After working 12-hour shifts for five consecutive days, the team gladly welcomed the weekend. With endless possibilities of what to do, some of the team decided to visit famous reed boat builder Paulino Esteban.
Don Paulino, as most people call him, helped build the famous Ra II expedition boat for notorious adventurer Thor Heyerdahl. Heyerdahl wanted to prove that ancient civilizations could have migrated across oceans in ancient vessels. During our visit, Don Paulino proudly showed us the 1971 National Geographic magazine about the historical expedition and his involvement in it.
As I stood there listening to Don Paulino, taking in his amazing story, I noticed how worn and aged his hands were. Don Paulino is almost 80 years old, and his sturdy hands represented a lifetime of skill and experience that continued to make him proud. I couldn’t help but think about our patients and the work that we’d come to do in La Paz.
Our team trip to Bolivia is considered a “hand trip,” meaning we focus on surgeries for the hand, including injuries, congenital deformities and other conditions. After a week of providing surgeries, we all felt that we were making a difference. However, it was not until I met Don Paulino that I gained an awareness of the true impact our work could have.
We have known for some time that restoring our patients’ hands can allow them to work again, to feed their families, to hold their kids. For some patients, the surgeries allow them to do these things for the very first time in their lives. What had never occurred to me before was that, with our team and local partners’ help, our patients’ restored hands might one day also allow them , just like Don Paulino’s, to make history.