SUMMER BULLETIN 2010 PORTSMOUTH ABBEY SCHOOL
Donald A. Macdonald, MD, Portsmouth Abbey Class of 1973.
Interviewed by Tom Anderson
Dr. Donald Macdonald’s interest in medicine was developed while a student at the Abbey and being inspired by his teachers Rev. Dom Leo Van Winkle, Rev. Dom Andrew Jenks and Dr.Donal O’Brien. After graduating from the Abbey and Williams College, he attended Dartmouth Medical School and completed his residency in ophthalmology at the Manhattan Eye, Ear & Throat Infirmary and his fellowship in Oculoplastic Surgery at the New York Eye and Ear Infirmary. He returned to the New Jersey shore where he was born and raised and where he lives today with his wife, Lore, having raised their four children Donald, Ali, Meg and Ian. Don and Lore have dedicated themselves to a life of stewardship in keeping with the Benedictine tradition. In March 2007, Don and a few colleagues formed a non-profit organization, Right to Sight and Health (www.righttosightandhealth.org), which provides medical and surgical eye care to indigenous populations who suffer due to extreme poverty and/or a total lack of available healthcare in areas where they live. Right to Sight and Health is a non-religious organization, and they treat people in need regardless of their nationality, race, ethnicity
This past March, Don returned from a two week mission in Kedougou, Senegal, the organization’s eleventh such mission since 2007, where he and his team of surgeons, nurses and allied health workers and volunteers performed cataract, trachoma and pterygium surgeries, distributed 600 pairs of eyeglasses, trained the local ophthalmic nurse, and donated a laptop computer and 50 lbs. of medical and surgical supplies to a
local hospital. They also donated enough money for building a new nurses quarters. The services he and his team provide free of charge combat blindness, one of the leading causes of infirmity in countries such as Senegal, Ghana, Cambodia, Nicaragua
and the Philippines. This summer Don is planning to be in Ghana working with the Presbyterian Church in two remote locations.
In a recent conversation with Don, we had a chance to explore some of the reasons why he undertakes these missions:
TA – Where did the idea come from that motivated you to startthe Right to Sight and Health missions?
DM – Every year local doctors have been doing medical missions
in South America and the Philippines. I always wanted to go,
but did not want to leave behind my young children. It was not
until two doctors, Dr. Tracey Lewis and Dr. Judith Simon, joined
my practice. They had been to Chiapas in Mexico and Africa
several times. After several missions, Dr. Simon actually was
organizing and running her own missions and it was she that
made the non-profit a reality. I wanted my daughter Meg to go
into medicine, so I asked her to go with me to Nicaragua. Well
she is going into psychology, so I failed to get any of my children
to follow me into eye care. But I got hooked on giving the gift of
vision to so many blind people. Here was something very powerful
that I myself could do to help people in a big way. Other
types of medical care in the Third World are difficult or impossible,
since medications are not readily available. But cataract
surgery could actually restore vision and there are a multitude
of people completely blind from this condition. It is the largest
treatable cause of blindness in the world.
TA – What kind of a difference has these missions made in these
patients and their families’ lives?
DM – When we were in Senegal in March, a 12 year old girl
came in totally blind. After we did both cataract surgeries, she
could see. You can only imagine how this will change her life.
This is true for countless other people who cannot walk anywhere
and so they are confined to their homes. A 16 year old
came in one evening after getting poked in the eye. We did his
traumatic cataract and saved him from losing his vision forever.
There is no eye care available for these people.
TA – How did your experience at Portsmouth play/not play a
role in establishing Right to Sight and Health missions and serving
the needs of those less fortunate?
DM – I don’t know if I can say that Portsmouth played a specific
role, except to say that Portsmouth shaped me more then any
other experience I ever had. Only at Portsmouth did I learn
about right and wrong and living an upstanding, honest life. I
wish all medical students went to a place like Portsmouth and
maybe there wouldn’t be such a health care crisis!
TA – What sense of accomplishment or personal gratification do
you derive from working on these missions?
DM – It is hard to describe the great gratification I get from our
work. Everybody thinks you are on some safari, but you are
working day and night in temperatures over 100° F, even on
weekends. But it is so exciting that you eat voraciously, drink
water all the time and barely stop to rest. We always have a
team that seems to work well together, and it is a great life experience
for the doctors, nurses, students, and Peace Corp volunteers.
We also teach local doctors our small incision Third
World cataract surgery techniques so that they may go out and
improve their outcomes. This is just as gratifying as giving the
gift of vision.
TA – Finally, what wisdom would you impart to our fellow alums
and current students on the importance of volunteerism to
DM – Often it seems that so much of the community service our
children are encouraged to do is not followed up in our adult
life. If we all took just a little bit of time out every year to help
others in need, the world would be a better place. Instead of
that vacation to some exotic place, a week or two dedicated to
improving the life of our fellow humans would go a long way to
improving the world. I am amazed how much work there is to
do. It is never ending. I encourage everyone I see to contribute
their time and money to causes such as ours. Catholic Medical
Mission Board (CMMB) is another organization that is doing
much to improve the world. And there are many more like
these that do so much for others.
Don and his team plan future missions to Assin Praso/Adobue,
Ghana, in June-July 2010 and Tambacounda, Senegal, in January,
2011. To learn more about the missions and how you might
help, please visit Right to Sight and Health at www.righttosightandhealth.