Postcards from the Field

Jimma and Arba Minch, Ethiopia

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Testimony of the Doctors Daughter on the Blessing of Cataract Surgery

Postmark: July 10, 2014 — Jimma, Ethiopia

Today we arrived in Jimma from Addis Ababa in a rush. Dad was injured in a car crash in India and now walks with a limp. He used it as an excuse to make Minx, Julia and me carry the luggage. When we arrived, we got a hospital tour and then Dad started teaching. He inspected 20 patients to determine who most needed a corneal transplant in a country lacking the resources to help them all. So many medical students surrounded him that we couldn't see him from the outside.

—Sara

Postmark: July 11, 2014 — Jimma, Ethiopia

Today my dad began teaching cornea transplant surgery at Jimma University Hospital using the corneas I carried over from the states. We are getting more today from the Ethiopian Eye Bank. We got to the hospital at 8 for my father's lecture to find a crowded room of medical students. He went over the most common causes of blindness in the world and in Ethiopia, and explained how the students can detect and prevent eye problems as general doctors. Of course, he also added a plea for them to go into ophthalmology. Dr. Jafer performed the operations as my dad instructed him and medical students crowded around. We gave Minx and Julia a rundown of how the OR works, as they are eager to work hard in Arba Minch.

—Sara

Postmark: July 12, 2014 — Jimma, Ethiopia

Today we saw post-ops from yesterday. Although cornea patients often have quite a bit more pain and are generally not as excited as cataract patients, one of the women cried with joy and praised the Lord when her patches came off.

Dr. Jafer performed more cornea transplant surgeries with the new Ethiopian corneas. My dad is trying to teach the flow system we use in Nepal and in eye camps where no one does anything that someone below them should be doing. This gives doctors maximum time working as doctors rather than having to do the work of technicians or nurses.

The two ophthalmology residents — one leaving for training this year and one just starting — are both women, which is exciting to see considering the overwhelming majority of medical students here are male.

Tonight, we’ll have dinner with the Jimma team to celebrate this week's work. I'm eager to get to Arba Minch, where I feel I can be of more help in the massive cataract program.

—Sara

Postmark: July 18, 2014  — Arba Minch, Ethiopia

Post-ops today made me want to cry. The patients (90 of them) were lined up and waiting for us when we arrived. Marva took off the patches and I put in numbing drops. The patients winced as the patches were removed, but when everything was off and they realized they could see they were joyous. One old man was crying in happiness as he shook my hand. Several of them hugged Marva, myself and the rest of the team. They were laughing and throwing their hands up. We did 120 surgeries today.

My dad and I took lunch with the Ethiopian team. Wednesday is a fasting day, which was perfect, as I'm a vegetarian. After lunch I sat with our head Ethiopian nurse, who is really incredible, and talked while my dad saw patients with the slit lamp. Although we are helping hundreds, it's difficult not to think about those whose eyes we can't save. Two little girls have facial deformities that destroyed an eye on each. We are trying to have them sent to Addis to at least have them repaired cosmetically. The doctors here told the mother of one of the girls there was nothing that could be done and she sat hugging the child and crying.

There was a little boy with bilateral trauma cataracts that my father fixed. He had cuts that were severely infected on both of his legs, so we arranged for antibiotics. Being able to help him at least made me feel I could do something.

—Sara

Postmark: July 18, 2014  — Arba Minch, Ethiopia

Today after post-ops we had a lot of volunteers, so I decided to go to market with Tyler, Elizabeth, Jeffrey and Marva. While shopping for jerseys we were approached by a young girl selling avocados and limes from a large tray. I immediately noticed the white at the center of her eye. She had a trauma cataract. Excited, I asked our guide to inform her about our program and let her know surgery would be free. The girl’s face lit up and she ran straight to the hospital. I couldn't stop thinking about her the whole way back.

When we got back to the hospital she ran up to me and hugged me as she showed off a pink slip of paper qualifying her for surgery. Her name is Tigist. She is 17, like me. Her surgery was complicated and she was nervous, but it went well. Hopefully, she will be pleased with the result tomorrow.

Another man that Dr. Dawit operated on yesterday told us through two translators that he had been blind so long he had forgotten what his children looked like. The results of yesterday's surgery gave him the confidence to go in again.

We had an extra long break waiting for a bus of patients that was late so Harnit braided my hair and we talked and showed each other photos on our phones.

—Sara

Postmark: July 19, 2014  — Arba Minch, Ethiopia

We finished 507 surgeries! 122 today. Our Mekelle-Arba Minch-Utah-California team is running smoothly.

During post-ops, we took off the patch of a one-eyed woman who was so nervous during surgery that she left marks on my hands. She could not stop smiling and ululating as her grandson held her up for eye drops.

—Sara

Postmark: July 20, 2014  — Arba Minch, Ethiopia

We finished the outreach! My dad performed his 400th surgery of the week yesterday. The whole OR clapped as the grinning woman left with her patch. We totaled 571 surgeries between the two doctors. Dr. Dawit was especially happy with his own progress during the week, as he personally cleared 40 patients on more than one day.

My dad spent all morning Friday performing surgery on seven babies and small children (three of them with bilateral cataracts) that had to be under general anesthesia. Harnit, my dad and the rest of the team moved to the main hospital for the surgeries. Julia, Minx and I worked with the babies giving them antibiotic drops every 10 minutes before they went in.

Needless to say, the kids didn't like us much. One especially tough little girl required three people to hold her as she kicked and screamed. It was well worth it the next day when her eye was clear and she and her father were beaming. 

On Saturday, we had our big team dinner. Yemi and Yosef worked hard to make sure everyone got a certificate of appreciation from HCP. My dad had a bit of difficulty pronouncing the names of the Ethiopian team and then intentionally mispronounced my name and Julia's as well. The hospital presented HCP and my dad with letters of thanks and gave us incredible presents, a colorful suit jacket for my dad and beautiful Ethiopian dresses for Julia, Minx and me.

After we finished surgery Sunday, my dad was interviewed on national Ethiopian television about the importance of eye care development and his hope that the government will work to support Ethiopian ophthalmologists.

We left for the airport in a rush to make it back to Addis in time for a conference/dinner with the Ethiopian Eye Bank team and the top Ethiopian cornea surgeons. Patients were still coming up to try to thank us as our car pulled away.

Dr. Jafer was in attendance at the dinner, so I was able to see him again. The Eye Bank staff presented each of the doctors with a vase and a rose as a gift of appreciation.

—Sara