61 Eyes Surgeries Performed; Two-Week Expedition Cut Short

14Despite and abbreviated one-week expedition, aid volunteers were able to complete 61 eye surgeries on Christmas Island patients late last month, mostly on islanders with two blinding cataracts each.

The trip was cut short when volunteer ophthalmologist Dr. Jeff Rutgard became ill and had to return home. We are working hard to recruit a replacement eye surgeon to return as soon as possible to complete the task, said Carlton Smith, PIMA’s president.

Nearly 40 surgeries remain, some of them for islanders who were brought to Christmas Island by ship from nearby islands. We were extremely fortunate that a Kiribati supply ship was able to bring the patients to Christmas Island for surgery, and we just hope that we can get back soon enough to complete our work there before another supply ship must return them to their home islands, Smith said.

15Surgical Nurse and PIMA volunteer Corrine Spencer from Bozeman, Montana, poses with Christmas Island patient who has just had her bandage removed… and can see again.

She can see! Surgical Nurse and PIMA volunteer Corrine Spencer from Bozeman, Montana, poses with Christmas Island patient who has just had her bandage removed … and can see again.

For the surgeries performed, 61 islanders are now able to see when they were blind before. “But we just need to finish the job,” Smith said.

Islanders needing sight-restoring surgery were identified earlier this year when our volunteer optometrist Dr. Scott Pike visited Christmas Island and the outer islands of Tabuaeran (Fanning) and Teraina (Washington) to dispense eyeglasses and check for more serious cases.

“Patients were waiting for us when we arrived,” Smith said. “We were able to prepare all the surgical supplies and medicines the first day, then assess cataract lenses for all the patients and organize a surgical schedule.

“On the second day, we began what turned out to be 15 eye surgeries a day on average, with bandages removed for patients 24 hours later. There is no better reward than to know that the blind can see a day after surgery.”