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this country of 25 million people, the Instituto de Salud del Niño
is the sole specialized children's hospital. For the poorest of
this very poor country -- nearly half of all children suffer from
chronic malnutrition, almost two-thirds of the population must rely
on the government for even minimal health-care services and the
rate of infant mortality is the second highest in Latin America
-- it may be the only medical center that offers even remote hope
for gravely ill children. Worse, for many families, just getting
to the front door can be a deadly journey over treacherous roads
that snake along the face of sheer cliffs from villages high in
the Andes or deep within the Amazon Basin. In one week in September,
54 people were killed and 35 injured when overcrowded, broken-down
trucks and buses skidded off crumbling mountain roads.
the end of the road doesn't guarantee success. Even in this large
hospital, the right medicine, in this case the drug prostaglandin,
simply isn't available. And if it were, the high cost -- several
hundred dollars for a single vial -- puts it out of reach of all
but the wealthiest families.
expense would not be a consideration in an emergency in the States,"
says Dr. Josephine B. Isabel-Jones, a cardiologist and assistant
dean of student affairs in UCLA's School of Medicine. "Prostaglandin
is readily available; we would administer the drug, save the baby's
life and worry later about how to pay for it. But in this instance,
we simply didn't have it."
so, the baby died.
was so hard, so frustrating for us," says Alejos, "to see this little
baby die because of the lack of resources."
is why Alejos, a UCLA pediatric cardiologist with a ready smile
and easy manner, has for four years traveled to Peru, organizing
and assembling volunteer medical teams to bring with him. These
trips are something of a personal mission for Alejos, a way to honor
the memory of his Peruvian father, a pediatrician, by giving something
back to the country of his forbearers. The goal, Alejos says, goes
beyond healing sick children. The real aim is to work side-by-side
with the South American doctors and nurses in order to train them
in techniques that are routine in this country but rare in Peru
for correcting complex congenital heart defects.