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Expedition to El Salvador. Chronicle of a surgeon.

Expedition to El Salvador. Chronicle of a surgeon.

And like all great dreams it starts with a belief. A belief that we can. The plan? To bring more than 400 people in El Salvador out of absolute darkness.

On Friday 12th April Sonia, my faithful instrumentalist, and I left León for Asturias to spend the night at Barcelona airport. At 4 am we all got together as a team, each of us coming from a different background, but with a common goal.

Luca, an anaesthetist born in Italy, but who lives between Barcelona, Ibiza and Formentera. A colleague with a heart that does not fit in his chest in the literal sense, as he made clear in the operating theatre when things did not go as we wanted, holding it with his hand on his chest and offering us a compassionate look. Resalía, Instrumentalist nurse who has been through a thousand expedition battles with the Elena Barraquer Foundation and whose vocabulary does not include error.

Lucía, nurse specialised in mental health, who didn’t know it but came to take care of ours, smiling and winking in the good moments and in the less good ones, too.

Javier, a friend and professional in the pharmaceutical industry who did not know why he came, but no one could have imagined a better companion. With 100 eyes for the entire operating theatre security control and a million hands to hold, accompany and caress each of the 432 patients he held and accompanied as they passed through a stretcher that never got cold.

Finally, Teté, Teresa Ferreiro or “the boss”, director of the Elena Barraquer Foundation, who arrives with 23 bags of luggage at the airport and after a few kisses and hugs in the early hours of the morning we check in. In those bags goes all the medical equipment, gauze, serums, fields and those little windows that we are going to install in each of the Salvadoran eyes that we operate on, called lenses. The trip is a long one. After our flight Asturias-Barcelona, we start with the first flight to Madrid and from there to Guatemala with final destination San Salvador. After 30 hours from our departure from León we arrive at our destination. There Noé Rivera (Rosario, Argentina), an excellent surgeon and fellow soldier, was waiting for us. He had come with his son Santi, alias “Tatin”, a medical student, and there was no function he was not willing to do immediately.

Once we were settled in the hotel, it was time to eat something to eat and to endure as much as possible without sleeping in order to adapt to the new schedule.



Day 1: Set-up and coordination

We wake up at 2 am unintentionally, but we make time until 6 am to have breakfast and leave for the Zacamil Hospital at 7 am. We start with the set-up of the operating theatre and check that all devices and material have arrived in good condition.

The facilities are impeccable and the local team is surprisingly diligent and with detailed planning.

Day 2,3,4,5 and 6: the symphony orchestra

It begins! Every day we have breakfast at 6.30 am, leave at 7 am and prepare the operating theatre as quickly as possible to start playing. The orchestra is conducted by Teté, from Luca’s anaesthesia to Javier’s arms, nobody wants to waste a minute. After many hours of work, hundreds of patients, smiles, tears, anguish, happiness, worry, hope, tiredness, courage and effort, a lot of effort, the last patient comes in. A 22 year old boy, with vision loss that has been evolving for years and extreme myopia that is corrected like the 432 surgeries performed by a large group of people coordinated like clockwork at the Elena Barraquer Foundation. Thanks to the support of the Ministry of Health of El Salvador and its young ophthalmology service at the Zacamil Hospital, which I have no doubt will bring much joy and change the lives of his grandparents, parents, siblings and neighbours forever.

Already on the train back home, it seems as if it had all been a dream. A dream that has passed very quickly, very far away, but that we believed possible and we return with the satisfaction and infinite gratitude of having made it possible. 432 people now have more light in their lives and in the lives of their families.

Jorge Sánchez Cañizal – Surgeon