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Blind Islanders Can See Again; Team Performs 48 Surgeries

Helping the blind to see again.Few things are as rewarding as watching the joy on a cataract patient’s face when the bandages first come off and he or she can see again after being blind for years.

The expression of wonder and happiness makes all the effort worthwhile.

For the fourth time in six years, our great eye surgery team, led by Oregon ophthalmologists Dr. Paul Jorizzo and Dr. Paul Imperia, have returned home after completing 48 eye surgeries, this time on patients from Christmas Island (Kiritimati), Teraina and Tabuaeran in the Line Islands of Kiribati.

“Most were cataracts and the outcomes were universally excellent,” Dr. Jorizzo said, “with many patients seeing for the first time in several years.”

He said the excitement of people being able to return to their normal lives was contagious, “leaving us moved and feeling fortunate that we were able to participate in the experience.”

This year’s eye surgery expedition required a lot of pre-planning and organization, according to Carlton Smith, president of Pacific Islands Medical Aid, Inc. (PIMA) He said an advance team, led by long-time PIMA volunteer, general surgeon Dr. Larry Falk and ophthalmologist Dr. Jack Mason, traveled to Christmas Island (Kiritimati) and the neighboring islands of Tabuaeran and Teraina to examine and assess eye patients and prepare a list of patients for surgery back on Christmas Island.

Happy patients lined up, recovering. So excited to see again.Then, patients were brought by boat and plane to Christmas Island for surgery at the small hospital there, Carlton said, under the direction of the medical officer in charge for the Kiribati Ministry of Health, Dr. Teraira Bangao.

Surgery supplies and loaned equipment was provided by Seeing Eye Expeditions (SEE International) in Santa Barbara, California, “a wonderful organization that we have worked with over the years,” Carlton said.

In addition to Dr. Paul Jorizzo, Dr. Paul Imperia, Dr. Larry Falk and Dr.Jack Mason, the surgery team consisted of ophthalmologist Dr. John Welling, nurse Laura Imperia and nurse Jessica Jones, from Medical Eye Center in Medford, Oregon.

“We were blessed to have such a great team help the good people of Kiribati,” Smith said, “and we look forward to being able to continue this worthwhile effort.”

If a picture is worth a thousand words, we have attached a volume’s worth in our newsletter this edition. As you look at the faces, just imagine the feelings of the patients at the moment they are able to see again.

Here is Dr. Paul Jorizzo’s story, in his own words:

By Dr. Paul Jorizzo, MD

Our eye team returned to Christmas Island for the fourth time. Patients at Christmas (Kiritimati), Fanning (Tabuaeran) and Washington (Teraina) had been screened by Dr. Larry Falk and Dr. Jack Mason, who, in addition to addressing their medical needs, found 50 patients in need of surgery.

Happy patient can see again after cataract surgery.  Happy patient can see again after cataract surgery.  Happy patient can see again after cataract surgery.  Happy patient can see again after cataract surgery.

A substantial coordinated effort to get patients and supplies to Christmas Island was greatly aided by Dr. Falk, Carlton Smith at PIMA, Surgical Eye Expeditions (SEE) International and the motor sailing vessel Kwai.

High quality surgical microscopes and supplies arrived along with the patients from the outlying islands prior to our arrival.

Under the guiding eye of Dr. Teraira, Dr. Paul Imperia and Dr. Jack Mason efficiently performed pre-operative examinations and measurements. Dr. Larry Falk was miraculous in finding ways to make all of our equipment work.

From blind to sight, in one day!

Meanwhile, the operating room team of Dr. John Welling, Laura Imperia RN and Jessica Jones, RM, joined me in setting up the operating room to accommodate two patients simultaneously.

With surprising efficiency, we were operating the next morning. Thanks to excellent screening, the majority of patients were profoundly blind… many blind bilaterally.

With the help of the Kiribati nursing staff, we completed 48 surgeries in one week. Most were cataracts and the outcomes were universally excellent, many patients seeing for the first time in several years.

The excitement of people being able to return to their normal lives was contagious, leaving us moved and fortunate that we were able to participate in the experience.

Paul and I had visited Christmas Island on several occasions prior to our surgical trips and hoped to find a way to give back to the warm people that we had visited. We are so appreciative of Carlton Smith and Pacific Islands Medical Aid, and the wonderful team at SEE International for helping us fulfill our quest.

We look forward to our next trip.

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.

Advance Team Identifies Cataract Patients

Our advance eye surgery team, led by long-time Pacific Islands Medical Aid volunteer Dr. Larry Falk, M.D. , along with recently-retired ophthalmologist Dr. Jack F. Mason, M.D., has just returned from the isolated islands of Tabuaeran, Teraina and Kiritimati in the Central Pacific where they identified more than 50 islanders needing cataract surgery.

In addition, hundreds of islanders were examined and received reading and long distance vision eyeglasses, donated by PIMA with your generous donations, and dispensed by local nurses.

In late April, patients will be brought to the small hospital in Kiritimati for cataract surgery, where volunteer eye surgeons Drs. Paul Imperia and Paul Jorizzo from Medford, Oregon will lead. This will be their third Pacific Islands Medical Aid trip to the Line Islands in Kiribati, where they have already performed nearly 200 successful eye surgeries.

See Dr. Falk’s report, including photos, in next month’s newsletter.