Earlier this year, two of my technicians, Laura and Jana; Kahtryn R. Hubbard, M.D.; my wife, Betsey; and I joined Medical Ministries International on a two week eye mission trip to Bolivia. It took us a long 24 hours to arrive in Sucre, Bolivia, and when we finally got off the plane, we were able to enjoy the perfect weather and the beautiful views. Our team consisted of 69 individuals, mostly Canadians who come every year, and other volunteers like us.
The clinic was set up in a large sports complex with views of busy street scenes and hundreds of people waiting in long lines. Surgeries were slow at first compared to other trips because many people were turning down cataract surgery. We were told that many patients were reluctant to have the procedure because a previous team, not associated with our group, was in Sucre two years ago and had bad results. By the second week, we had overcome their fears and were operating at capacity, having to turn people away. During the two weeks, we saw 4,707 patients, dispensed 3,402 glasses and performed 265 surgeries.
There are many stories associated with our trip, but one stands out for me. A 19-year-old boy named Richard came to the clinic early in the trip with rapidly declining sight. It was determined that both retinas were detaching and that he would probably be blind within days if he didn’t have surgery. Our medical director knew a retina specialist in Santa Cruz who could do the surgery for free, but $3,000 was still needed to cover Richard’s flight and other expenses. Within minutes, members of our team had donated the money to cover the traveling expenses. Richard was flown to Santa Cruz for the surgery the next day. Richard’s surgery was a success, and he was able to meet us at the airport before we left – happily hugging and thanking everyone for his restored vision!
Every day was full of wonderful happenings, and plans are afoot to return to Sucre in 2013. We will also be leading a team from San Antonio to join others in Ayacucho, Peru, this summer.
Robert Rice, MD, Medical Director, ICARE San Antonio
Rashid Rice & Flynn Eye Associates and Specialty Surgery Center, San Antonio http://www.rashidriceflynn.com/