The Blind Can See Again
In a one week eye expedition to the isolated Line Islands in Kiribati last month, 84 eye surgeries were performed and more than 200 islanders were examined in Pacific Islands Medical Aid’s latest humanitarian campaign.
“What a joy it is to watch the blind see again. Many older blind islanders can see their grandchildren for the first time now,” said Carlton Smith, of Pacific Islands Medical Aid (PIMA).
It was months in the planning, but well worth the effort, led by volunteer ophthalmologists Dr. Paul Jorizzo and Dr. Paul Imperia of Medical Eye Center in Medford, Oregon.
“Hat’s off to Drs. Paul and Paul and their hard-working team who worked long hours each day of their stay on Christmas Island in the Line Islands group,” Carlton said. Team members, in addition to Drs. Paul and Paul, included optometrist Dr. Rory Murphy, surgical technician Max Lenfer and Dr. Jorizzo’s adult children, Kristen and Matt.
“Logistics was a great challenge”, Carlton said, involving transportation provided by supply ship for patients from the outer islands, camping out and meals for several weeks on Christmas Island for 100 patients and their caretakers awaiting the team’s arrival; medical supplies and surgical equipment prepared and shipped in advance to Christmas Island by air cargo flight from California, Texas and Honolulu; transportation and lodging for team members on Christmas Island and an agreement for all patients to be returned to their home island by the Honolulu-based sailing vessel Kwai, which was scheduled to be in Line Islands waters.
“It was a team effort”, Carlton said, requiring timely coordination to bring the patients from the outer islands of Teraina and Tabuaeran to Christmas Island at a time when the surgical team could be there. The Kiribati Ministry of Health paid for supply ship transportation and local housing, the medical team donated all their time and effort, and all surgical supplies and equipment was donated and/or loaned by Surgical Eye Expeditions, International (SEE) in Santa Barbara, California. “SEE has been a fantastic partner”, Carlton said.
Work to restore sight for the blind and nearly blind on the isolated outer islands of Teraina and Tabuaeran began last November when optometrists Dr. Scott Pike and Dr. John Jolley and their wives, sponsored by PIMA, sailed from Christmas Island to the outer islands on the 100 foot long sailing vessel Kwai to examine eye patients and recommend those needing surgery. “They were able to examine hundreds of islanders, dispense eye glasses and refer patients for eye surgery”, Carlton said.
Culmination of the effort was in watching so many islanders be able to see again. It was a great and successful program, Carlton said. Below is Dr. Paul Jorizzo’s summary of the trip, followed by Dr. Paul Imperia’s ‘memorable moment.’
By Ophthalmologist Dr. Paul Jorizzo
Returning to Christmas Island is always a joyful reunion. This year, our return would not have been possible without significant efforts pre-screening patients by Dr. Scott Pike and Dr. John Jolley and their wives; patient transportation and housing aid from the Kiribati government; supplies provided by Surgical Eye Expeditions International (SEE) and of course Pacific Islands Medical Aid, Inc. Huge Cataract: Some of the cataracts removed were huge. Here is one removed from blind lady from outer island of Teraina. She can now see again.
Thanks to these great efforts, joined by Dr. Paul Imperia and our team from Medical Eye Center in Medford, Oregon, we were destined to have a very successful campaign.
Optometrist Dr. Rory Murphy and my daughter Kristen, with help from local nurses, saw well over 200 patients in clinic. They did all the pre-operative measurements and intraocular implant power calculations, treated an array of ocular conditions and dispensed glasses to patients from Christmas Island (Kiritimati), Teraina and Tabuaeran.
Their hard work allowed Dr. Imperia and surgical technician Max Lentfer, my son, Matt and wonderful local nurses to spend a majority of our time in the operating room.
We were able to overcome some equipment challenges thanks to Dr. Murphy and Dr. Imperia and performed 84 surgeries, including 74 cataract procedures and 10 pterygium repairs.
All patients requiring surgery were treated, and all did well.