A Brief 25 Year Summary of MACLA

MACLA was established in 1985 and has become a 501 (C) 3 tax-deductible charitable organization since 1987.

The patients treated by MACLA are among the poorest in Bolivia and the Dominican Republic.  They have little or no hope for adequate medical or surgical care.  They come from cold lantern heated sod and cement block homes in the Andes or the hot tropical cane fields and the coastal plains of the Caribbean.  They come from the country’s capitols of La Paz and Santo Domingo where barrio homes are clapboard, garbage litters the street and sewage flows in open gutters.  Each patient has a unique history of hardships and suffering.  They come on foot, on burros, on crowded buses and cabs.  Over the last 25 years there seems to be little change in their struggles.  In general their problems are the same as they were in 1985, but MACLA has made a significant dent in changing thousands of lives.

Since 1985, over 400 Peace Corps volunteers from the Dominican Republic have helped coordinate the clinics, acted as translators, clinical helpers and have assisted patients in pre and postoperative care.  This is an energetic group of volunteers who we depend on as exemplary ambassadors of the United States.  They are always young, eager and brilliant.  Most of the volunteers have stated that this medical mission work is one of the most important times that they have had in their two year tenures as Peace Corps volunteers.

MACLA medical teams consist of operating room and recovery nurses, anesthetists, anesthesiologists, plastic surgeons, pediatricians and family physicians, physical and occupational therapists and lay volunteers.  Our volunteers have come from over 30 states and give of their time, money and efforts providing the best care for our patients.

Over the years we have been associated with over six medical schools and a dozen hospitals in the Dominican Republic and Bolivia.  We have helped train their residents, worked with their local physicians and nurses and have gained their respect.  In Bolivia we have now established ourselves at the military hospital in La Paz and for 15 years have worked at the Padre Billini Hospital in the Colonial Zone in Santo Domingo.  Generally the physicians and medical personnel in these countries are overworked, underpaid and are not given much respect by their countrymen.

Half of our trip supplies are sorted from disposed items from surgical centers and hospitals.  The other half of the equipment and medication we buy for our patients.  Early on we sorted and stored medications and equipment in several of our basements however, we now have warehouse space generously donated by Mike McQueeny in mid-downtown.  It is our central receiving and shipping zone.  We also have a warehouse that the Dominican government allowed us to build on the roof of the hospital and in La Paz we rent a small storage area.  Our office space here in the U.S. is also donated.  Any equipment or supplies that we don’t need, we give to the Sisters of St. Francis in Kansas City.  They donate to several medical missions in different poor countries in Africa.  Nothing goes to waste.

Our budget ranges from $170,000 to $240,000 a year and 90% is received from private donors.  No one is salaried and our overhead for paperwork, office supplies and mailings are  4%, 10 times better than most charitable organizations.  The cost to operate on one person is still $500 and of course our patients pay nothing.

The challenges of delivering quality reconstructive plastic surgery in Latin America are considerable.  There are also a unique set of rewards for the traveling medical teams -very little paperwork, no likelihood of malpractice or legal actions and no communist like insurance companies or HMOs to deal with.  The immense satisfaction you get in operating on patients who would otherwise have no chance of having any reconstructive surgery can be overwhelming.  A happy mother, a smiling child or a hand shake is all we need to encourage us to return.