An American neurosurgeon embarked on an extraordinary mission to conduct complex brain surgeries in a world away from the high-tech hospitals he’s accustomed to in the United States.
“Nightline” documented Dr. Rahul Jandial’s journey to Peru, where he and his partner, Dr. Mike Levy, the chief of neurosurgery at Children’s Hospital San Diego, performed surgeries on patients who otherwise wouldn’t have access to a world-class neurosurgeon. Jandial, who works at City of Hope, one of the premier cancer centers in Los Angeles, also trained Peruvian doctors on his techniques.
“It’s a world of difference,” Jandial said, comparing the hospital in L.A. to one in Peru. “We have every device and instrument and monitoring technique that’s available in the world and over there they have to manage with very few resources.”
Janidal created a foundation, the International Neurosurgical Children’s Association, consisting of brain surgeons who donate their time and skills to help patients in poorer countries. For 13 years, Jandial has dedicated his own money and much of his free time to build and renovate children’s brain surgery programs in third-world nations.
He also brings hospital equipment, donated by City of Hope, that would either be refurbished or replaced in the U.S., but in countries like Peru, they are lifesavers.
“This is very generous of them [City of Hope] even though it’s stuff that we may throw away or we think is no longer useful,” Jandial said. “For them [in Peru], it’s gold.”
The poorest 30 percent of the world’s population received only 3.5 percent of all surgeries, according to the World Health Organization. Jandial and Levy performed surgeries at the Marian Auxiliadora hospital, a charity facility that helps up to 2 million people in one of the poorest areas in Lima.
“[Before] I first showed up here, I’m not sure I had been to a place where there are incomplete mud huts and buildings outside of a hospital,” Jandial said. “It just feels good that we are providing the real care for the people.”
Victor Benllochqiquer, the chief of neurosurgery at Marian Auxiliadora, has built the neuroscience program at the hospital for the past 30 years.
“It’s my commitment as a doctor,” he said in Spanish. “I decided to become a doctor to work for the people, the people in the poorest area of Lima.”
In the U.S., Jandial said neurosurgeons are the 1 percent of income earners but in Lima, neurosurgeons are middle class in a poor country.
“The sacrifice is on a scale that doesn’t compare to what I’m doing in the United States,” he said.
Their time is precious. In just 48 hours, the two surgeons performed seven procedures on children who would not have access to this advanced health care otherwise.
One patient was a toddler with a brain hemorrhage, another with a fractured skull. Both were success stories in the end, but even with the surgeons’ tools and training, they weren’t able to conquer all the cases they saw. One patient, an 11-year-old boy, had a tumor in the center of his brain that turned out to be malignant. The boy will now undergo chemotherapy and radiation to treat the tumor.
“It’s just a big letdown,” Levy said. “We’re trained to do things to fix things, and there’s nothing we can do to fix him.”
But through their triumphs and disappointments, Jandial’s hope is that by donating equipment and teaching other surgeons new techniques they will empower those doctors, not just in Peru but in other third-world countries, to perform lifesaving brain surgeries on their own.
“You know, on to the next battleship, on to the next hospital,” Jandial said.