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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.

Children from Tarawa Get Heart Surgery

For the parents of 2 year old Iotua Nenetaake and Bwabwane Meeia, 10, it’s a dream come true that their children have been saved, thanks to the efforts of Pacific Islands Medical Aid, the leader of HeartGift Texas and heart surgeon Dr. Camile Hancock Friesen at Dell Childrens’ Medical Center of Central Texas in Austin.

Ready to Go Home - Children from Tarawa in Kiribati are ready to go home after successful heart surgery in Austin, Texas. Sitting between children is their heart surgeon, Dr. Camile Hancock Friesen of Dell Childrens Medical Center of Central Texas. Second from right is Sonya Keeling, International Director of HeartGift of Texas, who arranged help for the children. Others include parents of the children and Kiribati Ministry of Health nurse/translator.

Ready to Go Home – Children from Tarawa in Kiribati are ready to go home after successful heart surgery in Austin, Texas. Sitting between children is their heart surgeon, Dr. Camile Hancock Friesen of Dell Childrens Medical Center of Central Texas. Second from right is Sonya Keeling, International Director of HeartGift of Texas, who arranged help for the children. Others include parents of the children and Kiribati Ministry of Health nurse/translator.

The children, their mothers and Kiribati Ministry of Health nurse have now all returned to their home island of Tarawa in the Central Pacific following successful heart repair surgery for both children.

Congenital heart problems for each child were first discovered by our volunteer heart team leader, cardiothoracic surgeon Dr. David Moore of Baylor Heart Hospital in Plano, Texas and his team, traveling to far-away Tarawa last year.

Surgery was made possible with the help and leadership of Ms. Sonya Keeling, national patient coordinator for HeartGift Texas, who’s efforts made it possible for the children to come to Dell Childrens’ Medical Center.

Ms. Keeling said both children “were amazing in their recovery from surgery. Having them here has been such a great experience for all of us involved,” she said.

Heart Team: More Than 40 Saved

More than 40 lives have been saved to date by our Pacific Islands Medical Aid heart surgery program, thanks our donors, the leadership of cardiothoracic surgeon Dr. David Moore of Baylor Scott White Heart Hospital in Plano, Texas and dozens and dozens of great volunteers.

What began as an outreach to Christmas Island in the isolated nation of Kiribati several years ago has grown to encompass the wider island nation of 33 islands in the Central Pacific where many young patients suffer with heart valve disease, brought about by untreated rheumatic fever when they were very young.

“Among all of the medical programs we have undertaken,” I think we are most proud of the heart surgery initiative,” said Carlton Smith, PIMA president.

With the help and support of the Kiribati Ministry of Health, our team has visited the islands with diagnostic tools to identify the most urgent cases and arrange for them to be brought to the U.S. for open heart surgery, Carlton said. Team members, led by Dr. Moore, include cardiac sonographer Michael Rampoldi of Baylor Scott White and nurse Amy W. Moore.

Your donations have allowed us to provide housing, at Homewood Suites in Plano, meals and local transportation, while dozens of supportive surgeons working with Dr. Moore and medical professionals at Baylor Heart Hospital have pulled together to make this happen.

“It is our hope to be able to return early next year to Christmas Island and neighboring isolated… and seldom visited… outer islands of Tabuaeran and Teraina,” Carlton said.

HeartGift Austin to the Rescue

Two little children diagnosed with congenital heart defects by members of our PIMA Heart Team in Tarawa late last year will be literally saved by HeartGift Austin this month.

Under the direction of HeartGift’s national patient coordinator Ms. Sonya Skilling, the two patients, their mothers and Kiribati Ministry of Health nurse are scheduled to arrive in Austin Oct. 15 so that the children can have life-saving heart surgery there.

Two year old Iotua Nenetaake, a little boy from the isolated atoll in the Central Pacific called Nikunau, was diagnosed with a ventricular septal defect.

Bwabwane Meeia, 10, from the island of Tarawa, was also found to have a congenital heart defect.

“We are forever grateful to HeartGift Austin and Ms. Skilling for organizing and underwriting this life-saving effort”, said Carlton Smith, PIMA president.

Thanks to Sherry Shaw and CryoLife

Critical to our success with heart patients from the central Pacific are the new heart valves needed to replace defective human valves in the dozens of islanders brought to the U.S. needing life-saving surgery.

CryoLife cardiovascular specialist Sherry Shaw of Plano, Texas and the firm she represents, On-X Life Technologies, Inc., have been absolutely essential in our humanitarian program by donating world-class artificial heart valves to Pacific Islands Medical Aid (PIMA) through Baylor Heart Hospital and our team leader, cardiothoracic surgeon Dr. David Moore.

“We cannot thank Sherry enough for organizing her company’s fabulous donations and for her continuing support of this worthwhile program, ” said Carlton Smith, PIMA president.

Sherry said ‘it is a humbling honor to be part of such a worthwhile PIMA endeavor with such an excellent heart team and hospital.”

CryoLife is a leader in tissue processing and medical devices, such as the On-X prosthetic heart valves used in cardiac surgical procedures, Carlton said.