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World Blindness Outreach Visits El Salvador and Ecuador
Special to the Ocular Surgery News

A surgical eye mission to El Salvador in April marked the first time that the World Blindness Outreach worked in full collaboration with Catholic Relief Services.  The religious agency handled all of the arrangements for the trip, from coordinating our visit with local doctors to finding quarters for our team and providing local transportation.
We successfully operated on 121 cataract patients, many of them elderly, at the Nueva Conception Hospital in Chalatenango north of the capital city of San Salvador during our stay in the country from April 10 through April 17.
This was the 27th mission for World Blindness Outreach since 1990.  We have now performed probably close to 3,000 operations in a dozen and a half countries around the world.
The trip to El Salvador followed on the heels of a mission to Ecuador in February.  We have a mission to Dominican Republican for our annual week at the Linda Alley Clinic.
The collaboration with Catholic Relief Services worked out well.  We had been talking with the agony through its headquarters in Baltimore, and it had made some of the arrangements to our mission to Nicaragua late last year.  The agency already provides a wide variety of services to indigent peoples around the world, but it now wants to broaden its involvement in medical programs, and we provide a natural avenue for that to happen.
Besides myself, the team of volunteers in El Salvador consisted of Dr. Brian Egan, an ophthalmologist from Springfield, Virginia; Dr. Daniel Lee, an ophthalmologist from Turlock, California; Dr. William Ebinger and his wife, Diane, of Leonard, Michigan, veteran team members who served as operating room assistant and technician, respectively; Sharon Yiengst, a certified ophthalmic technician from Hummelstown, Pennsylvania; Alison L. Henry, a certified ophthalmic technician from Annville, Pennsylvania; Eileen Geiss, a registered nurse from Ephrata, Pennsylvania; and Jeffrey Steckbeck of Lebanon, Pennsylvania.
Steckbeck, an engineer, came along as a representative of the Lebanon Lions Club, which has provided generous support to World Blindness Outreach over the years.
The mission to El Salvador was the second for Dr. Egan, who also went to Brazil in 1995.  He contacted us and volunteered after reading an article in 1994 about our surgical eye mission to China.
Dr. Egan said the mission to El Salvador helped fulfill two desires for him - to stimulate his sense of adventure by seeing things he wouldn't normally see in his daily life and to help people who were truly in need.   He said the mission was especially satisfying in the second regard.  "The people were desperately poor," he said, "It was very clear that we were providing surgery to people who otherwise wouldn't have had it."
The hospital where we worked was small but well run and had a good nursing staff.  Dr. Ramiro Portillo was the chief of medicine.
Dr. Egan said he was struck by the number of older people who came to the hospital seeking help.  "There was one guy who claimed to be 105 years old," he recalled "He looked awfully good to be that old, but who knows?  He had a good memory of things that went on early in the century."
We went with supplies to do 100 operations, but we made everything stretch and did 121.  By the end, we were out of virtually everything.
Dr. Egan said the importance of these missions to people's lives was summed up for him by an old woman who sat on a bench crying when he told her we were out of supplies and couldn't do any more operations.  We gave our last set of implants and made arrangements for her to have the surgery done for free in San Salvador.  But when we told this she just kept crying.  When we asked her what was wrong, she said she didn't have the $1 bus fare to get to San Salvador.   We gave her $10 just to make sure.  To think that if it weren't for $1 an old woman would be condemned to blindness!


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