Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Medical team heads to Guatemala for second cataract surgery project

by Jerry Monks, for the Inland Register

(From the Sept. 8, 2005 edition of the Inland Register)

Right: Some members of the CAT 1 team that did 27 cataract surgeries in the Novillero Clinic in February 2004: from left are Dr. Craig Wilkerson, nurse Molly Shine, scrub tech Dori Buechler, anesthetist Maureen O’Keefe, Novillero Clinic specialist Gregorio Casildo Joj Cux, and clinical engineer Roy Munyan. (IR photo from the Guatemala Commission)

With the successful completion of their first trip last year, the Spokane-based cataract surgery team is enthusiastically proceeding with plans for another medical mission to Guatemala. The second round of surgeries will take place in Sololá, Guatemala during the second week of October.

The first medical project, CAT 1, resulted in cataract surgeries for 27 Mayan Indians in February 2004 (“Spokane medical teams lay groundwork for eye surgeries in Guatemala mission clinic,” IR 2/26/04). Operations were performed in the Guatemala Mission clinic in Novillero by a surgeon and nurses from Spokane. Although the clinic had been serving the native people for 40 years, the cataract operations were the first such surgeries to be done in that remote area of the Guatemala highlands.

Some of the CAT 1 patients had to walk several hours over rough trails to get to Novillero for their operations. Patients included a 14-year-old boy who had no sight in one eye and a serious cataract in the other. With the cataract removed, he received sight in one eye. Surgery performed on a young mother with similar conditions allowed her to see her six-month-old daughter for the first time.

Many of the patients were older. Several had advanced stage (white) cataracts that proved very time-consuming to remove.

In anticipation of the upcoming CAT II trip, a team of five optometrists traveled last July to the clinic in Novillero. Led by Spokane Dr. Rich Ryan, the optometrists examined nearly 700 native people as part of a VOSH International project. Most patients were provided with glasses. The doctors also identified over 40 potential candidates for cataract surgery and forwarded the exam data on them to the surgery team that will be traveling to Guatemala next month.

Like the first surgery project, CAT II is being managed by Family-to-Family (FAF), the Guatemala Mission organization based at St. Thomas More Parish, Spokane. CAT II team members have actively sought, and secured, some donations of medical equipment and supplies. Financial help from FAF sponsors has been augmented by a book and bake sale at Spokane’s Sacred Heart Medical Center, and by raffles and the sale of Guatemalan goods.

Alcon Corporation, a major supplier of cataract surgery equipment, has been a generous donor of lenses and costly medical supplies. SEE International, a nonprofit organization based in Santa Barbara Calif., will be supplying surgical packs and selected medicines for each patient. Kimberly Clark is donating gloves and surgical masks, and Dutch Ophthalmic is supplying medicines. Sacred Heart Medical Center (SHMC) will be donating gowns and is assisting in the purchase of some medicines.

Although the project planning, scheduling, and fund-raising activities seem to consume much of the team’s current efforts, the participants are energized by the anticipated results. The lives of a few Mayan Indians, who live in the mountains of Guatemala, will be changed.

Instead going through life struggling with blindness, the lives of some will be a little brighter. They will be able to see the paths they must walk to their fields, the corn they must harvest to feed their families, and the sparkle in the eyes of their children when they come home. And maybe another mother will be able to see her way to the river, where she can wash the family clothes.

(Jerry Monks is a member of the diocese's Guatemala Commission.)

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