In The Poverty Of Peru, A Hartford Medical Mission Finds A Home

August 25, 2016

The Hartford Hospital cafeteria might seem like an unlikely venue for a revelatory conversation, but there sat Dr. Subramani Seetharama in 2007 when his dining partner, Dr. Andrew Wakefield, started talking about a recent volunteer trip to provide professional care for Peru’s underprivileged

“I grew up in India,” says Dr. Seetharama, a physiatrist and medical director of Hartford HealthCare Rehabilitation Network. “I have seen poverty. I have seen disabilities. I have seen people who have no access to health care, so it was not a shock to my system. It was something I always wanted to do. I just jumped into it.”

Like Dr. Wakefield, a Hartford HealthCare neurosurgeon, Dr. Seetharama has developed a deep devotion to Dreaming & Working Together, an organization founded in 2005 by Hernando Garcia, a consumer service analyst in Hartford Hospital’s health information management department. What started as Garcia’s simple, solitary mission of collecting recyclables and using the redemption funds to purchase fans and air conditioners for medical facilities in his native Peru has evolved into a coordinated plan offering necessary surgeries, devices and other medical services.

In April, Drs. Seetharama and Wakefield were among a group of close to two dozen people – including four prosthetists, rehabilitation specialists and four students from the University of Hartford master’s program in prosthetics and orthotics -- who traveled to Callao, Peru, as part of a Hartford HealthCare's Center for Global Health initiative for a week to volunteer at the Nacional Daniel Alcides Carrion Hospital. Seetharama helped fit and create prosthetics in one week -- many patients were injured in landmine incidents -- a dizzying pace by conventional United States standards.

“When we see patients in the United States,” says Dr. Seetharama, “it’s a process. Healing the limb, fitting them with a temporary prosthesis, they go for rehab and by the time you get a prosthesis it’s two or three months. We are doing the whole process in three days.”

Dr. Wakefield typically performs 10 to 12 spine and several brain surgeries during the week. The physical therapists, facing a waiting room with hundreds of people, also worked quickly. Among those who received treatment, says Hartford HealthCare Rehabilitation Network physical therapist Jake Awruch, was a 22-year-old male who had waited days on the nuerological floor after suffering a spinal-chord injury when hit by a car.

“His plan was to just lay around in bed until he got better and something else came around,” says Awruch. “We got him out of bed, into a wheelchair, and gave him the tools he needed to have a purpose again. He went from having a flat affect, like he didn’t even smile or have any facial expressions, to smiling. I felt like I was really part of something special.”

Dr. Seetharama, when talking about Peru, sometimes prefaces his remarks with an apology if he becomes emotional. Despite his upbringing in India, the cultural differences he has seen in Peru are still startling. What he saw in March, he says, resembles the shantytowns visitors to the Summer Olympics might have seen in in the Rio de Janeiro region.

“I remember looking at this little shack,” he says. “There was a guy standing there with a little cup in his hand and a stick in the other. That was his toothbrush and his little can of water.”

Word of mouth, like a casual lunchtime conversation, is now enough to sustain the medical mission.

“We haven’t tried to advertise,” says Seetharama. “People have heard of us. It’s amazing to see the young kids coming in – that generosity, the heart and their emotional attachment. Each one is totally invested in this. And that is amazing to see. I would love to have my kids come one with me to see this. We are very fortunate. We need to give back to these people. In the medical profession, you have an opportunity to do it.”

For more information on Hartford HealthCare's domestic and international missions, visit the Center for Global Health.

Hartford HealthCare Press Contact

  • Shawn Mawhiney
    Director of Communications