Of the many projects completed in 2002, one of the most satisfying was the Cataract Eye Operations Project in East Africa. While in Nairobi over a year ago, I spoke with several physicians and learned of the seriousness of the eye problems in Africa. In fact, blindness in Africa increases at the rate of two million persons per year. Doctors believe that 75% of these cases are avoidable and easily treatable. Unfortunately, there is less than one eye doctor available per million African people. So most people in need will never receive treatment.
After my initial investigations, I found that the Lions Sightfirst Hospital in Nairobi had a wonderful outreach program specially equipped to conduct cataract operations. Discussions with the chief surgeon inspired me greatly. I decided to get involved in helping their efforts to eradicate blindness. I came back to the States with an open mind, and discussed the situation with some close friends and students. Their positive responses made it possible for us to fund 135 cataract operations this year.
In my four visits to Africa in 2002, I devoted special time to participate in outreach “eye camps” in rural Kenya. In one of these “camps” about 450 people arrived for screening. The team from Lions Eye Clinic examined the people from morning until evening. Some of these people were so poor that they were unable even to pay for bus fare. People of all ages walked for miles just to reach the eye clinic.
Although all patients seen were to receive treatment by the physicians, the doctors explained that only 10% of the people would qualify for cataract operations. I observed the eye exams and learned that cataracts are a condition in which the natural lens of the eye becomes cloudy, causing blurred and distorted vision. Over time, if left untreated, this causes needless blindness.
Once the patients diagnosed with cataracts were selected, they were immediately driven to Nairobi to be prepared for surgery the following day. After a one night hospital stay, the patients would be sent home with their vision restored. Our sponsorship covered the entire cost of transportation, operation, and hospital stay.
As with all the projects we sponsor, I enjoyed actively participating in the entire process from the rural village eye camps, to viewing the actual surgery in the operating theater, to discussions with the patients in recovery. For a few of the cases, the doctors invited me to observe the actual eye surgery. When I explained that I could not take off my robes, they were kind enough to allow me to wear my surgical gown on top of the robes, a highly unusual exception!
I was amazed that the entire operation took only 10 minutes. I noticed how a small lens was inserted after removal of the cataract. It was hard to believe that a blind person’s sight could be restored in so short a time. Can you imagine opening your eyes for the first time an seeing this world? I was so fortunate to share this experience of joy, laughter and gratitude with these special people.
By directly being in touch with those we help, we can come closer to their pain and suffering, understand it better, and allow them to inspire us.