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Once more, the sun rises to another beautiful day in La Paz, Bolivia. With hearts full of dedication and hope, the team prepares to embark on another day of transformative surgeries  and invaluable learning experiences. April 15th, 2024, marks the 2nd day of Gift of Life International’s 10th surgical visit to our Core Program in Bolivia. Today was a busy, busy day consisting of two surgeries, a meeting with the governor, and a lot of learning opportunities for the local nurses, residents, and attendings. Day 2 was full of hope, resilience, and positive attitudes.

We deeply value the donations we receive as they play a vital role in our mission to make a meaningful impact. Every donation is thoughtfully utilized to bring about positive change and transform lives for the better–just as is being done this week in La Paz! 

Without the invaluable assistance of our remarkable partners, the opportunity to provide aid to these children this week would not have been possible. We give a big thank you to our partners, including Gift of Life Rotary District 7490 and Corazones Chiquitos Bolivia.

The first surgery of the day was for Cristina who was born on March 17th, 2023 and is from El Alto, La Paz.

Cristina pictured with her father.

Cristina is the youngest of 9 children. Her mother, Antonia, sells food for a living and her father, Pedro works as a construction worker.

Cristina was born with Down Syndrome, which originally distracted doctors from the fact that she had a heart problem. As she began to get older, she was not growing sufficiently and could not gain weight.


After discovering Cristina’s heart issue, her parents were informed about the Gift of Life International program, and referred to Hospital del Niño in September 2023. Cristina was an excellent candidate for the surgery but contracted a sinus infection and a fever, causing her surgery to be postponed.

Her parents brought her back during the January 2024 Gift of Life visit but unfortunately the week came to a close before Cristina was able to be operated on. Antonia, Cristina’s mother, is very excited for her surgery. They have been waiting a long time for this moment and Cristina’s parents are ready to see her healthy and happy. Cristina’s surgery was for a Ventricular Septal Defect (VSD). Her surgery went well and she is currently recovering in the ICU.

Dr. Gabe Owens and Dr. Ericka Perez with the intensive care team.

Dr. Gabe Owens (visiting pediatric cardiologist / intensivist) and Dr. Ericka Perez (Bolivian pediatric cardiac surgeon) discuss the patient’s condition with the intensive care team to ensure a smooth recovery following surgery.

Training for the local team is provided at the bedside as well as in classroom-like settings. This continuous skills transfer is part of the strategic development of this Core Program and is critical in moving the program towards sustainability.

The second surgery of the day was for Valentino from La Paz, Bolivia.


Valentino was born May 17th, 2020, making him 3 years old. He has 4 older brothers and loves watching cartoons and eating! Carla, Valentino’s mother, is a single, hard-working parent.

When Valentino was born he suffered from polydactyly and received surgery on his fingers. After this surgery, Valentino had to return to the hospital 10 days later due to an infection in his fingers. He was very swollen and had 40% saturation, had difficulty breathing, and besides his love of eating, could not gain weight. After a month of testing, doctors realized that Valentino was suffering from a hole in his heart known as a Ventricular Septal Defect or VSD.

Valentino this afternoon before his surgery (April 15, 2024).

Valentino was placed on the medication spironolactone, which is used to help treat fluid build-up due to heart failure and high blood pressure. His mother, Carla, was informed about Gift of Life International at one of their check-ups and in January of 2024, Valentino had an echocardiogram done and he was approved for a Gift of Life International surgery.

Here, Valentino has made it safely to the ICU to recover from his VSD surgery with help from the tremendous doctors and nurses, both local and visiting.

Valentino in the ICU for recovery.

This week, during recovery of patients like Valentino, there will be targeted training provided by the Gift of Life visiting team to their Bolivian counterparts. This exchange of knowledge will help the local team enhance their skills and knowledge in the treatment and recovery of critical pediatric patients with heart disease.

 This morning, while the first surgery was underway, CEO Rob Raylman met with Dr. Henry Ascarrunz and the Director of Hospital del Niño, Dr. Wilfredo Pasten, to further the strategic development of this Gift of Life International Core Program. Also present in the meeting was Dr. Oscar Ballivian, Dr. Jesus Ponzo, Ivonne Lopez, and Karla Patzi. The purpose of this meeting was to help secure funding, plan construction, and overall aid in the progression of creating a new pediatric cardiovascular intensive care unit at Hospital del Niño.

Pictured here (left to right): Dr. Henry Ascarrunz, Ivonne Lopez, GOLI CEO Rob Raylman, Dr. Wilfredo Pasten, Dr. Oscar Ballivian, Dr. Jesus Ponzo, and Karla Patzi.

This project will be an amazing addition for the hospital, providing a dedicated space for kids with congenital heart defects.

A busy and successful Day Two. Stay tuned for an update on Day Three! 

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