Making a Difference with Cataract Surgery

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When Sanduk Ruit, a pioneering eye surgeon from Nepal, and his American colleague Dr. Geoff Tabin discovered that their simple, low-cost, sight-restoring method of cataract surgery could be brought successfully to thousands of citizens living in the most inaccessible mountain villages of the Himalaya, they realized they had a chance to change the lives of millions of people—overnight—throughout the entire developing world.

A tiny incision, a five- or ten-minute procedure, no sutures or long recovery, and people who had no sight and no hope for a productive life suddenly could make plans for a future. All the doctors needed was an

organization behind them that could raise the funding and build the infrastructure to train hundreds of local eye surgeons, mass-produce cheap intraocular lenses, and transport a radical new model of service delivery across impoverished continents. They hired Job Heintz to help build the organization.

Heintz had already been immersed in the work of making change happen in Nepal. As an idealistic second-year law student at VLS, Heintz had helped a small group of Nepalese lawyers develop into the country’s first public interest law group. More than a decade later, the group, called Pro Public, is one the most respected legal firms in the country. 

As CEO of the Himalayan Cataract Project, headquartered in Waterbury, Vermont, Heintz has overseen the scaling up that surgeons Ruit and Tabin had dreamed of. Since 2010, HCP has

directly supported short and long-term training for 140 ophthalmic personnel from Nepal, India, Bhutan, Myanmar, China (Tibet), Ethiopia, Ghana, Nigeria, and the United States. Over the past 10 years, HCP and its partners across Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa have conducted 365,000 surgeries and provided care to more than 4 million patients.

In the days following the tragic April earthquake in Nepal, Heintz and the Himalayan Cataract Project pivoted. They raised hundreds of thousands of dollars and threw their contacts and hub-and-spoke network into a massive relief effort, delivering tons of food, water, and temporary shelter to remote villages that were desperately in need. “We’re just doing what we can,” he says.

Heintz had chosen Vermont Law School thinking it was the place to go to make a difference. “The law school is full of public-minded professors who can show students what ‘doing anything you want’ really means. Idealism there is not only encouraged, it’s modeled. It was the environment that I was most interested in, then,” he says. “It’s people now. But I’ve learned it’s the same stuff that matters at the core.”

“The law school is full of public-minded professors who can show students what ‘doing anything you want’ really means. Idealism there is not only encouraged, it’s modeled.

– Job Heintz