Mission to Peru

By BOB DARDEN Staff Writer The Greenwood Commonwealth


Dr. James S. Robbins has had an interesting, challenging summer in the city of Chincha, Peru, population 170,000.

Robbins returned to the United States on Monday after two weeks in Peru.

In emails from Peru, the 68-year-old Greenwood urologist discussed the conditions he faced as a member of Project Hope, a team of three doctors that had been in the country since June.

In 2007, Chincha was destroyed by an earthquake. Today, it has been largely rebuilt.

“I’ve been tasked with assisting the urogynecology (treatment of women whose pelvic organs are falling out) group, which comes from the new Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Washington,” Robbins said.

About 20 people went to help, including doctors, anesthetists and surgical nurses, and medical equipment and supplies also were brought in, he wrote.

Robbins said Chincha is in one of the poorest regions of Peru, where foreigners often are kidnapped. All the hotels have high walls and armed guards for security, he said.

“If you need to go the two blocks to the next hotel for a meeting they send a van for us. If you want to go to the supermercado (kind of like Walmart), they send a van for us,” Robbins said.

No one goes out after 7:30 p.m., he said. Even San Jose Hospital, where Robbins did most of his service, is surrounded by a wall and guards.

The U.S. military is in the country as part of a readiness and training exercise, which includes adult and pediatric medicine. This rotation included specialties such as dermatology, pediatric dentistry, optometry and obstetrics/gynecology, Robbins said.

Robbins, a native of Mayfield, Ky., received his undergraduate degree from Tulane University and his medical degree from the University of Tennessee and did his surgical training at Walter Reed.

Asked how his stay in Chincha was proceeding, Robbins replied, “We have been doing two cases per day, which is fewer than they planned for. They thought they would have four to six per day, but some weren’t candidates for surgery and some just didn’t show up.

“In any event, although I’ve been useful, I haven’t been really indispensible. I’ve assisted the residents at surgery and done a few cystoscopic things they were uncomfortable with,” he said. “Working with the residents is always enjoyable.”

The rest of the Project Hope team has been visiting a clinic in Pisco, seeing a lot of patients of all ages.

Robbins said the trip had been very satisfying.

“Although the Peruvian people are very poor by our standards, their basic education system is excellent as is their public health system,” he said.

“As with many of our people, however, they are often too poor to afford to buy medicine. The surgical procedures we offered are essentially unavailable except in Lima, and then only if the patient can pay,” he said.

Robbins said the lives he’s touched have made a difference in his. “The people have been very happy to see us, and that is rewarding in itself,” he said. “As to friendships, it doesn’t take long to become friends with people when you work and live with them for a while.”

• Contact Bod Darden at 581-7239 or bdarden@gwcommonwealth.com.