From Wisconsin with Love

In June 1990, Dr. Linnea Smith arrived in the Amazon region of Peru carrying only a stethoscope, an oto-ophthalmoscope, a small microscope, a bottle of pre-natal vitamins and a few doses of antibiotics. Today, the Yanamono Medical Clinic she founded sees over 2,500 people a year.

From its humble origins (a small thatched-roof hut, no electricity or running water), the clinic has grown, and now has a staff of 9, including two doctors (Smith and a Peruvian doctor), and three nurses (all Peruvian). Services offered at the clinic include family planning, prenatal care and birthing, dental care, treatment of snakebite, cholera, parasites, and malaria, care of trauma, and treatment of a multitude of infectious diseases.

The story of how Dr. Smith started and grew the Yanamono Medical Clinic is one of passion and persistence. The Wisconsin native received her medical degree from the University of Wisconsin—Madison in 1984. She joined a small practice in the nearby community of Prairie du Sac. Then she took a vacation that would change her life.

In 1990, Dr. Smith came to Peru for the first time, traveling with International Expeditions, and spending one week at the Explorama Lodge in the Amazon jungle.

It was love at first sight, says Dr. Smith. “I didn’t want to leave the jungle. Even after seeing Machu Picchu and getting back home to Wisconsin, I still didn’t want to leave the jungle.”

So four months later, she returned to the jungle. She stayed at the Explorama Lodge while establishing the Yanamono Medical Clinic. Conditions were difficult. Dr. Smith did not speak Spanish, and had only minimal funding (her personal savings). But she persisted, and when she returned to Wisconsin for a visit in late 1991, she was interviewed on Wisconsin Public Radio.

Her story caught the attention of Jon Helstrom, an architect and a member of Rotary Club, from Duluth, Minnesota. Helstrom made a preliminary visit to Dr. Smith’s Amazon clinic. When he returned to the US, he convinced his Rotary District to send a crew down to Peru to build a 30 by 60 foot clinic, complete with well and solar panels, on the bank of the river, about 15 minutes’ walk from the Lodge. While they were at it, they also built Dr. Smith a two-room thatched-roof house on the Lodge grounds. She finally had her own place to stay.

Rivers are fickle, and by mid-2008, it became apparent the Amazon River was expanding. It would only be a matter of time before it would swallow up the clinic.

Jon Helstrom came to the rescue again. He developed not only a floor plan for a new clinic (situated on Yanamono Stream rather than on the Amazon), but also the funding and people with which to build it.

The new and improved Yanamono Medical Clinic opened in March 2009. It had exam rooms, a lab, office space, a pharmacy, a dental room, and an overnight patient room. It also boasted a comfortable living space for the doctor and nurses from Iquitos, a kitchen, and better quarters for the local clinic staff who often spend their nights there, as well as increased office and storage space.

Today Dr. Smith is gradually phasing herself out, leaving the treatment of patients and day-to-day operations of the clinic to the Peruvian staff. She’s spending more time in Wisconsin, and enjoying more leisurely pursuits. Her legacy in the Amazon, the Yanamono Medical Clinic, however, is showing no signs of slowing down.

If you would like to stay at the Explorama Lodge, immerse yourself in the Amazon jungle and see the Yanamono Medical Clinic yourself, contact International Expeditions.