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The August 2003 Ophthalmology branch of the Chiapas Project was comprised of three Board Certified American Ophthalmologists. Together with a handful of dedicated volunteers, greater than 600 patients were examined over the course of four days.
A tremendous amount of ocular pathology was diagnosed amongst the native Zoque Indians in the small villages of Ocotepec. Due to hazardous living conditions and vast exposure to sunlight, corneal problems and cataracts were extremely common. Eye irritation and pterygia (benign growths over the cornea) were present in over 90% of patients. In fact, cataracts were so common, that only those patients who were bilaterally blind were considered surgical candidates for the makeshift operating theater. When cataract surgery was performed, it was done the “old fashioned” way, removing the cataract in one piece with a large incision.
In the US, cataract surgery is performed through a microscopic incision. The cloudy lens is emulsified via ultrasound so that it can be vacuumed from the eye. In Ocotepec, the operating conditions were comparatively primitive. Surgical supplies were donated, and as such, were either expired or second hand. Even so, all patients who underwent eye surgery on this mission obtained useful vision. Patients were brought back from total blindness to full functionality. They were able to discard their handcrafted canes (tree branches) and return to a dignified life.
The eventual objective of the Ophthalmologists who participated in the Chiapas Project is to restore useful vision to all eyes needing surgery and ophthalmic care. This would entail many more Eye MD volunteers, multiple operating theaters (each equipped with an operating microscope) and eventually a full time, ophthalmic clinic (fully stocked with medications and surgical supplies). Perhaps, through great humanitarian efforts, these goals will eventually be achieved.