A team of 11 Ophthalmologists, nurses, and scrub technicians from Los Gatos, Calif. volunteered their time and talent for a week at the Clinica Maxeña in the Guatemala Mission in November.
The group is a part of Seeing Again-Eye Care Guatemala, a non-profit organized by two Ophthalmology teams. One is led by Joseph Kupko, MD, of Missoula, and the other by Martin Fishman, MD, MPA, of Los Gatos. The organization makes two trips to the Clinic per year, once for each team.
Dr. Fishman’s California team visited last November. The group consisted of licensed Ophthalmologists, Stanford Ophthalmologists in residence, nurses, and scrub technicians. Between the 10th and 18th, they saw 269 patients and performed 72 surgical procedures. They performed cataract surgeries, eyelid surgeries, laser treatments and treatment for pterygia, which affects people who have excessive sun exposure. For some of the team, this was not their first journey down to the clinic, and many signed up for the Fishman Team’s next rotation in two years.
“It’s a joy to go down and see what we can do for the people of Santo Tomás and the outlying area, and wonderful when we can give people back their sight,” Dr. Fishman said. “And I love to take people down, especially other Ophthalmologists and Stanford residents because it’s very important for medical professionals to see there’s a world beyond our own, and we can affect it, and make a difference.”
This marks the 14th trip that Dr. Fishman has made to the clinic with a group of volunteers. He’s been co-managing the program since 2005 after meeting Keith McKenzie, who originally hosted the program in Nuevo Progresso on the Mexico-Texas border. At that time, patients needed to be transported from Guatemala to receive treatment. Eventually, Keith met Sr. Mary Waddell of the Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, who served as the Director of the Clinica Maxeña from 1986-2006. Sr. Mary convinced Keith to move the operation down to Santo Tomás and expand the Clinica Maxeña to include the space and resources necessary for eye care. Over the years equipment and supplies have been donated to the organization.
“We’re now stocked incredibly well,” Dr. Fishman said. “We have state of the art microscopes and lasers. A great deal of our support has come from the Rotary Clubs of Los Gatos and Santa Cruz, as well as from individual donors. We can do so much for those in need so easily. The equipment is incredible, the staff down at the Clinica Maxeña works wonderfully. The hardest part, honestly, is the surgery itself!”
Seeing Again-Eye Care Guatemala will return to Clinica Maxeña in late March, when Dr. Kupko’s Team will provide surgical care and treatment. With sight restored, another group of patients will be able to return to their lives as they are gifted a quality of life that is otherwise inaccessible.