PIMA Eye Team Sails To Help Remote Islanders

Optometrist Dr. Scott Pike and his wife Joene, (from Oregon) together with friend Dr. Jerry Jolley (from California) and Kiribati nurse Iokoba Itibita, have returned from the far reaches of the northern Line Islands in Kiribati in the central Pacific where they examined 351 eye patients, dispensed 268 pairs of glasses and identified 82 needing eye surgery (which we will do later this year).

They joined the sailing vessel Kwai to reach the remote islands of Tabuaeran and Teraina from Christmas Island (Kiritimati), and the effort was well worth it, says Dr. Pike. Here is his report:

By Dr. Scott Pike
Pacific University College of Optometry

The islands are incredibly beautiful with turquoise blue waters and white sand beaches, and the people are kind and wonderful, which made for a fabulous adventure. Joene and I were making our second trip to the three Line Islands, having completed a similar mission trip in 2009 with Carlton Smith, president of Pacific Islands Medical Aid, and other PIMA volunteers.

Traveling aboard the sailing vessel Kwai was an adventure in itself. Gliding and sometimes rockin’ and rollin’ over the gorgeous blue seas with colorful sunsets, watching dolphins play, was quite a sight. Living with a group of about 60 other travelers, many of whom provided entertainment by singing ‘a cappella’ and sometimes accompanied by energetic ukulele playing made the rather long hours aboard the ship quite pleasant.

Our team held clinics on Washington (Teraina), and Fanning (Tabuaeran) Islands as well as at the small hospital on Christmas Island (Kiritimati). On each island, local nurses were a great help. Only due to the local help was the team able to accomplish so much.

A total of 351 patients were seen and 268 pairs of glasses were dispensed. This shows the great eye care need that exists in the Line Islands. Indeed, most of the patients over 40 years of age are now able to see clearly for the first time in years. In addition, 300 pairs of sunglasses were given out to protect people from the harmful UV rays of the sun.

Seventy two patients were identified needing cataract surgery and ten more were found to need surgery for pterygia… a growth that forms on the conjunctiva and cornea , which as it grows can obscure vision. (Editors note: PIMA volunteer ophthalmologists, following Dr. Pike’s work, with perform eye surgeries for these patients later this year).

The cataract patients ranged in age from 6 to 85. Some were totally blind and many are functionally blind with very reduced vision.

Other conditions we were able to identify and treat included glaucoma, eye infections and eye injuries.

The hospitality and warmth of the people of the Line Islands was incredible. Celebrations with amazing food, dancing and singing… shell necklaces and flower headdresses greeted the team on every island.

A special thanks to Carlton Smith and PIMA for arranging the adventure and providing all the glasses and sunglasses. It took a lot of time and planning to coordinate the logistics for such an undertaking. It was a heartwarming trip meeting all the people and having the opportunity to make a difference in so many lives. It turned out great for everyone involved.

PIMA’s Productive Year…

Surgeries: In reviewing our records, PIMA volunteer surgeons performed 66 major operations in 2014 with 3 one-week general surgery teams on Christmas Island in Kiribati (Kiritimati) and 4 two-week general surgery teams… for a total of 11 weeks of general surgery. Hats off to all our volunteer surgeons and anesthesiologists.

Pre Cancer Treatment: In addition, our Women’s Health Team taught local nurses how to identify and kill (by freezing) pre cancer cervical cells in island women, and donated all the equipment and supplies necessary to carry on … with dozens successfully treated.

Eye Care: Our optometrists examined more than 300 islanders needing help, dispensed more than 250 eyeglasses and identified nearly 100 needing eye surgery… which they will have when our ophthalmology team returns to Christmas Island later this year.

Shriners: In a groundbreaking agreement, Shriners Hospital for Children in Honolulu has entered into a collaborative agreement with PIMA and Kiribati Ministry of Health in which Shriners is ‘adopting’ children from Kiribati needing orthopedic surgery. Shriners provides all medical care free of cost. PIMA is sponsoring the patients and paying the cost of housing and meals while patients and their caretakers are in Honolulu. The Ministry of Health will pay airfare. Eleven patients are on the surgery list now, with Shriners team members coming each year to Christmas Island to see previous patients and assess the needs of new ones.

Heart Surgery: Three young adults were sent to the U.S. for life saving open-heart surgery in 2014. Overall, PIMA has been responsible for bringing more than 20 children and adults to the U.S. for open-heart surgery over the last five years.

Hospital Improvements: With your donations, we were able to help upgrade the small Ronton Hospital maternity ward on Christmas Island and paint the interior of the hospital, following a complete upgrade by PIMA of their operating room environment and equipment. Much more is being planned for 2015. Please help us make it happen by contributing to Pacific Islands Medical Aid, Inc. where 100 per cent of your donation goes directly to help those in most need.