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From Peru to Nicaragua, Scottsdale Doctor Is a Man on a Lot of Missions
By Mike Saucier
Dr. James Foltz never imagined that his medical career would take him to faraway lands like Peru and Nicaragua.
But in August Dr. Foltz is scheduled to embark on his 25th surgical mission trip when he heads to Peru to perform life-changing surgeries on women there. It will be the 13th volunteer mission trip the Scottsdale gynecologist will take with Esperanca, an international nonprofit headquartered in Phoenix.
Dr. Foltz, who started his OB/GYN practice, Focus on Women, in Scottsdale in 1983, had never really considered volunteer medical travel.
“I heard about people doing it but until my friend got me interested I never thought I would do such a thing,” he said.
His close friend, a general surgeon, had gone on a mission to Bolivia on his own about 15 years ago.
“He just came to me and said, ‘I think you’d be interested in this. I think you should try this and I think it will change your life,’” Dr. Foltz said.
So he went. Turns out, his friend was right.
“It was a great experience and it did change my life,” he said. “I was going to go and continue missions with him but he got a serious illness and couldn’t continue. So I was looking around for an alternative organization. So I just Googled ‘surgical missions in South America’ and Esperanca popped up. So that’s how I got started.”
The trip requires significant preparation. Dr. Foltz recruits a team of anesthesiologists, nurses and support staff to accompany him on each trip. He also procures and brings thousands of dollars in medical supplies to support the complex surgical needs the team confronts while working in developing nations.
Dr. Foltz and his team made their first surgical mission trip of the year in April, to Nicaragua, where they performed 30 surgeries in five days in the municipality La Dalia. That marked his 12th mission trip with Esperanca and his 25th overall.
For the Nicaragua trips, Dr. Foltz and his team leave Phoenix on Saturday morning and arrive at their mountaintop destination around 9 p.m. that night. On Sunday morning, they go to the clinic and see 50 to 60 patients who had been previously screened by local doctors. They examine the patients, determine which to operate on and set their schedule for the week. They will operate on 25 to 40 patients.
Dr. Foltz will help women with suffering from gynecological issues such as urinary incontinence, uterine tumors and ovarian tumors, although he does not perform a lot of cancer surgery because they do not have the capability to handle it, he said. Most of the patients have benign noncancerous conditions.
“They do not have accessibility to a lot of preventative care,” Dr. Foltz said. “So the conditions that we see are the same conditions we encounter in the U.S., however they are left untreated for many more years because they cannot get access to medical care. So I think it’s the lack of preventative care that’s the biggest issue there.”
Dr. Foltz, an Arizona State University alum, received his medical degree from the University of Arizona and completed his residency at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Phoenix.
His daughter, Dr. Allison Snyder, an obstetrician and gynecologist, is his partner and takes over when he heads out on his surgical mission trips. They plan to do a volunteer trip together in the future.
Dr. Foltz said the work Esperanca does has a “tremendous” effect on women’s health.
“Esperanca is the only organization I donate my time to now and that’s because they really do volunteer surgical missions right,” he said. “Esperanca always partners with other organizations in the host countries, which is particularly important in creating a safe, efficient and productive surgical mission environment. There is no question that this experience can change your life.”