Advance Eye Team: Flanking Dr. Jack Mason ( second from left ) and Dr. Larry Falk are Kiribati biomedical officer Taaren, at left, and nurse Iokabwa, who helped with patients and distributed hundreds of pairs of eyeglasses. Both Taaren and Iokabwa serve at the small Ronton Hospital on Christmas Island, where eye surgeries will take place this summer.

Intrepid Volunteer Physicians Venture To Aid Eye Patients

Advance Eye Team: Flanking Dr. Jack Mason ( second from left ) and Dr. Larry Falk are Kiribati biomedical officer Taaren, at left, and nurse Iokabwa, who helped with patients and distributed hundreds of pairs of eyeglasses. Both Taaren and Iokabwa serve at the small Ronton Hospital on Christmas Island, where eye surgeries will take place this summer.

Advance Eye Team: Flanking Dr. Jack Mason (second from left) and Dr. Larry Falk are Kiribati biomedical officer Taaren, at left, and nurse Iokabwa, who helped with patients and distributed hundreds of pairs of eyeglasses. Both Taaren and Iokabwa serve at the small Ronton Hospital on Christmas Island, where eye surgeries will take place this summer.

Two of our intrepid Pacific Islands Medical Aid volunteer physicians have returned from two isolated islands in Kiribati in the Central Pacific where they identified 41 blind and nearly blind islanders needing cataract surgery and dispensed hundreds of pairs of long distance vision and reading glasses.

Veteran PIMA volunteer physician and general surgeon Dr. Larry Falk, along with ophthalmologist Dr. Jack Mason, both from Ukiah, California, ventured to the islands of Tabuaeran and Teraina …where there are no doctors …to examine and diagnose patients in advance of our Eye Surgery Team going to Christmas Island next month to perform the surgeries.

Patients will be brought to Christmas Island (Kiritimati)by boat aboard the sailing vessel Kwai, owned by Brad Ives from Hawaii, a long-time friend of PIMA.

Larry and Jack were joined by senior male nurse Iakobwa and Taaren, the biomedical officer at Christmas Island’s Ronton Hospital.

Here is Dr. Larry’s account of the expedition.

By Dr. Larry Falk, MD

Dr. Jack Mason and I recently had the pleasure of working on the islands of Tabuaeran and Teraina in Kiribati, under the auspices of Pacific Islands Medical Aid and upon the invitation of the medical officer in charge in the Line Islands, Dr. Teraira Bangao and Ministry of Health of Kiribati.

We were invited to screen patients for eye diseases in anticipation of a PIMA-sponsored cataract surgery team scheduled later this Spring. Jack is an ophthalmologist and I am a general surgeon volunteer with PIMA. Although Jack had been fishing on Christmas Island in the past, this was his first chance to volunteer his professional services with Pacific Islands Medical Aid.

Eye Exam on Tabuaeran: Volunteer ophthalmologist Dr. Jack Mason from Ukiah, California examines young eye patient on isolated island of Tabuaeran. Behind Jack is team leader Dr. Larry Falk along with local Kiribati nurse.

Eye Exam on Tabuaeran: Volunteer ophthalmologist Dr. Jack Mason from Ukiah, California examines young eye patient on isolated island of Tabuaeran. Behind Jack is team leader Dr. Larry Falk along with local Kiribati nurse.

We arrived on Christmas Island, spent four days at the small hospital there, then bundled up our equipment and took the small plane to Teraira (Washington Island).

We were quartered in the abandoned formerly British colonial headquarters and slept under a mosquito net.

In two days, we saw many patients and were able to enlist multiple cataract and non-cataract referrals.

Our final stop was at Tabuaeran (Fanning Island) where we stayed at a comfortable tropical hotel setting on an island, like Christmas, that has a huge lagoon. We saw patients with the help of the local Ministry of Health Clinic staff.

Jack encountered a wide range of clinical problems among all of these patients. These included minor issues such as presbytopia (nearsightedness), pterygia and dry eyes as well as more series pathology.

There were 41 patients judged to be suitable for cataract surgery. Diabetes is a common problem and Jack evaluated patients with diabetic retinopathy related issues. Other issues included untreatable blindness, old eye injuries, tear duct malfunction, posterior capsular apacification, a cancer of the eye and ocular trachoma. One six-year-old girl had bilateral subluxation of her lenses which could result in blindness.

Overall, there was an overwhelming burden of ocular pathology among the patients we had the privilege of seeing. Appropriate referrals were made and care was rendered where possible.

A group of 41 patients will be referred to the PIMA-sponsored cataract surgery team later in the year, led by Drs. Paul Imperia and Paul Jorizzo, both of Medford, Oregon.

It was a humbling and rewarding experience to have the pleasure of working with Dr. Teraira and optical technician Iakobwa as well as the rest of the capable Ministry of Health staff at each of the clinics. We are grateful to each of them, to the patients and to Carlton Smith of Pacific Islands Medical Aid.