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Eye Mission to Honduras Aids Local Residents
Special to the Ocular Surgery News
By Dr. Albert A. Alley

Sighted people often take their vision for granted. Very often we take those closest to us for granted. But the reaction of an impaired-vision husband and wife in La Ceiba, Honduras, after their sight was restored by surgery, was a reminder of the value of both sight and love. The couple began to cry with joy when, thanks to cataract operations, they were able to see each other for the first time in a long while and realized they would soon be able to see their grandchildren for the first time ever.

This is only one of the many moving moments we encountered during an eye surgery mission to La Ceiba, Honduras, from Jan. 10-26. Our team of physicians and other medical personnel and volunteers, assembled by World Blindness Outreach, Inc., conducted 86 cataract surgeries at the Hospital Regional Atlantida to restore the sight of patients in a rural part of the country who otherwise would not have been able to afford an operation.

Most of the patients we treated had "count fingers vision" or less before surgery. Many could be considered truly legally blind because their impairment was bilateral. While the majority was elderly, we also operated on younger people—among them young men whose eyes had been subjected to trauma in battle.

Although WBO, a nonprofit organization, has conducted 40 eye missions in 15 countries around the world since its founding in 1990—with some countries visited more than once—this was our first mission to Honduras.

Charles Long, a Mechanicsburg, Pa., business consultant, was a driving force behind this mission. He had a previous connection with Honduras. His elder daughter, a senior at Wellesley College, participated in missionary activities there after high school. Long himself spent four days in the Honduran capital when his daughter was settling in.

"I loved the country," he explained. "It’s beautiful, and I met a lot of people. When you’ve been in a country, it sticks in the back of your mind to find a way to help." That "way" came after Long was invited by a mutual friend to attend WBO’s annual golf tournament in Hershey in 2002. Impressed with the presentation we showed of previous missions, Long committed himself to help us with our work. "I was overwhelmed that people are willing to take time off from their work, physicians from their practices, and pay their own way to go on a mission," Long explained.

With the assistance of the Rotary Club in La Ceiba—which made land travel and accommodation arrangements—WBO assembled a team that consisted of myself; Drs. Mary Susan Carlson of Arlington, Va., and Ruben Landazuri of Quito, Ecuador, ophthalmologists; Sharon Yingst of Hummelstown, Pa., an ophthalmic technician and charge nurse; Cindy Poucel of Lancaster, Pa., a surgical nurse; Rita Colley Hendrickson, of Springfield, Va., an A-scan technician; and Ramon Jarquin of Bethesda, Md., an ophthalmic technician.

Also joining the mission were Carolyn Peters of Manheim, Pa., a registered nurse who served as nonmedical coordinator and instrument technician; Diego Benitez of Quito, Ecuador, director of the Vista Para Todos Foundation; and three volunteers, James Cruz of State College, Pa.; Patrick Carlson of Arlington, Va., Dr. Carlson’s son; and Charles Long. Mary Jane Atwood of Florissant, Mo., a family friend of Long’s who had lived in Honduras and who served as our translator.

Dr. Landazuri, who goes on missions with us regularly, brought along a portable Phaco machine for cataract removal.

We forged an excellent working collaboration with two Honduran ophthalmologists, Drs. Carolina Palma and Dennis Espinal. The latter screened the patients and provided follow-up care.

La Ceiba is a well-populated area, better equipped with electricity than other areas we had gone to. "But the hospital lacked equipment, and the people we treated did not have money to pay for the operations done in the other hospital [in the town], a private facility," observed Sharon Yingst, who has been on more than 10 WBO missions.

In fact, Hospital Regional Atlantida did not own a microscope, and there was a large backlog of cataract and other ophthalmic patients who needed treatment. Thanks to the generosity of the Rotary Club, we were able to donate an operating microscope and complete set of eye surgical instruments to the hospital. We also left behind a large supply of consumable supplies, such as lens implants and eye drops, so the Honduran ophthalmologists and their staffs could perform eye surgeries after we left.

During some missions, we treat both children and adults. This mission focused on adults, but we were able to make the initial arrangements for a baby with bilateral retinoblastoma to be evaluated and treated in the United States.

The gratitude of the patients we operated on was palpable. Frequently, they would proclaim "Gracias a Dios, gracias a usted"—"Thanks be to God, thanks to you." But, as has happened before, mission participants felt they were getting as much out experience as the individuals whose sight we helped to restore.

Long said participating in the eye mission "was one of the most-fantastic things I ever did. It touched my heart to see people crying to get their vision back. They hugged everyone on our team."

"Because I was in the operating room, I was at a bit of a disadvantage," Yingst said. "I didn’t have the chance to get to know the people before the surgery, but the rewards were when they come back the next day to have their patches taken off—and they could see."

Dr. Carlson, also a veteran of many WBO missions, derived particular pleasure from her son Patrick’s participation. "Watching him put his arm around the patients as he escorted them into and out of the operating room, hearing him trying to resurrect his Spanish, and witnessing his enthusiasm for everything about the trip was enough to make a mother swell with pride," she said.

This was our first trip to Honduras, but it won’t be our last. Even before we left the country Dr. Palma and her staff requested that we arrange a return mission next year, and we agreed. In fact, we hope to make this an annual trip.

We are also planning eye missions to the Dominican Republic, Ethiopia and Ecuador later this year.

Dr. Albert A. Alley, a diplomate of the American Board of Ophthalmology, practices in Lebanon, PA, and is a clinical assistant professor of ophthalmology at Penn State University’s College of Medicine at the Hershey Medical Center. He is co-founder and president of World Blindness Outreach, Inc., a humanitarian organization that supports eye missions to treat correctable blindness and preventable eye diseases among indigent peoples throughout the world. You can contact Dr. Alley at World Blindness Outreach, Inc., 1510 Cornwall Road, Lebanon, PA 17042 or at (717) 273-0662. Send email to Visit the World Blindness Outreach Web site at



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