Evanston resident and long time volunteer Margaret Flanagan organizing suitcases filled with medical supply donations as the teach checks in at O’Hare Airport.Photo by Ann Rhomberg

The cold and wet weather had no effect on the staff and volunteers at Solidarity Bridge, 1703 Darrow Ave., as they loaded 40 suitcases of medical supplies headed for Cliza, Bolivia.

“There are sutures, pediatric feeding tubes and supplies for laparoscopic surgery,” said Executive Director Ann Rhomberg, who was seeing to last-minute details before she boarded the van to join Father Robert Oldershaw and other Evanston and Wilmette residents on the trip to Bolivia.

The donations come from a variety of donors, said Jodi Grahl, Director of Gynecology, General Surgery and Pacemaker Programs. The Hospital Sisters Mission Outreach in Springfield donates many new but surplus supplies, she said.

This year, Solidarity Bridge is celebrating 20 years of connecting hospitals and clinics in Bolivia with equipment and information from
the United States.

Nurses, surgeons and other medical personnel stay long enough to train their Bolivian counterparts in ways to use medical equipment that is new to them and surgical techniques they might not have yet learned.

“It’s a mutual relationship,” Ms. Grahl said. “The U.S. doctors work side-by-side with Bolivian doctors.”

The website for Solidarity Bridge has information about the need for medical supplies. “Nearly one-third of the global disease burden stems from surgically treatable conditions. And while many global health initiatives focus on primary and preventative care, five billion people around the world still lack access to basic surgical services. Rooted in the tradition of Catholic social justice and a spirituality of solidarity, Solidarity Bridge seeks to respond to this concrete reality.

“We work in partnership with the medical communities of Bolivia to increase access to safe, essential and timely surgical care. With our partners, we operate four year-round surgical programs. Through short-term medical mission trips, we connect U.S. medical practitioners to their peers in Bolivia,” the website says.

Through its efforts, Solidarity Bridge has delivered to Bolivian hospitals and clinics more than $42 million in medical equipment and supplies, and its surgical programs have helped to restore the health of more than 6,500 patients.