A Doctor Makes Life & Death Decisions

“Paulina is in desperate need of an operation to remove the tumor behind her eye,” Dr. Beatriz Salas, a pediatric oncologist in Bolivia, told me.  “Unfortunately, we need to do an MRI and other scans before we can do it.  I just hope we can find the money to pay for them before the tumor affects her central nervous system.”  In the meantime, four-month-old Paulina simply waits in her hospital bed with her mother standing quietly by her side.

Paulina’s tumor began to grow at the tender age of two months. Her parents, simple peasants from a village about five hours from Cochabamba, had no money for medical treatment. Once the tumor had taken over the left side of Paulina’s face and her eye looked like something from a horror film, they made their way to Cochabamba, a large city in northern Bolivia, in order to see Dr. Salas.

Dr. Salas is one of only four pediatric oncologists in Bolivia and works on a shoestring budget.  To financially strapped government officials, the mortality rate of kids with cancer is simply too high for them to justify spending their limited funds on.  “I understand that position,” Dr. Salas says.  “But to have to look a mother in the eye and tell her that her child will die because I simply don’t have the resources I need is tough.”

Children under the age of five in Bolivia will be admitted to the hospital and basic services provided by the government, but those services do not include chemotherapy or the costly scans cancer patients need.  For children over five, parents are expected to foot the entire bill – impossible for poor campesinos eeking out a meager living from the land.

Dr. Salas has turned to local voluntary foundations for help and has managed to round up a fair bit of support. “Foundations like FUNNAC are the only way I’ve been able to get chemotherapy – they give what they can, but they only provide chemo.  So far, I haven’t found a way to get the scans or other medicines these kids need.”

“We are a small department,” she says, “but we give our patients all the knowledge we have, all the love we feel, and all the support we can find.”

I only hope it’s enough.

We have come to the conclusion that we simply can’t turn our backs on Dr. Salas and her kids and have decided to do what we can to help.  We’ve established a small charity in Bolivia and arranged for 100% of the funds raised to go directly to Dr. Salas.  Will you please help?  All donations – large and small – will be greatly appreciated.  We all thank you.  Click here to donate.


Michael Verhage plays with Karlito, a little boy with a brain tumor.
Michael with one Karlito, one of the cancer kids

On the cancer ward in Cochabamba

On the cancer ward in Cochabamba

John shows Emili, a little girl with leukemia, a video he just took.
On the cancer ward in Cochabamba

Dr. Salas is one of the most compassionate people I’ve ever met.
On the cancer ward in Cochabamba

Four month old Paulina desperately needs an operation to remove the tumor behind her eye.
On the cancer ward in Cochabamba

On the cancer ward in Cochabamba

On the cancer ward in Cochabamba

All the families can do is wait.
On the cancer ward in Cochabamba

books by Nancy Sathre-Vogel