First Sight

The eye clinic celebrated its one year anniversary this past week.  God has blessed us with a team of six capable, caring Burundian staff who, a year ago, knew nothing about eyeballs.  So, it has been a year of firsts for us.  When we saw our first patient last January, all we had was a paper eye chart and a flashlight.  A year later, we have a very well equipped clinic and two operating rooms capable of delivering advanced eye care.  In fact, more than 5,000 patients have come through the doors to date and hundreds have received sight-restoring surgeries.  

Some of my favorite firsts of the year:

1.  One of our first cataract patients, an old mama, seeing again for the first time in years after cataract surgery.  Most people who go blind in Africa die within 5 years.  We are currently the only place in the entire country outside of the capital city where intra-ocular surgery can be done.  In fact, people come every week from other countries due to the lack of eye care in the surrounding regions.

2.   Fides, a mother, seeing her seven month old baby for the first time after having cataract surgery.  She had been in hiding for nearly two years trying to keep others from knowing of her blindness given the social ramifications for her family.  She was heartbroken every time she would hear her baby coo or laugh but was unable to see her smiling face.  Here’s a link to a moving video she starred in for Serge Mission.

3.   Burundi’s first corneal transplants were performed at Kibuye thanks to the help of Moria (surgical instrument manufacturer), the Lions Eye Bank of Delaware Valley and Dr. Sadeer Hannush.  Hats off to FedEx who delivered the donor eyes from Philadelphia to the very heart of Africa in less than 48 hours.  Below is a photo of the team with the five recipients.

The mother of the youngest recipient had been praying for eye care to come to this region for years because her little girl had gone blind and she was too poor to take her to the capital city let alone to another country for a transplant.  She told me the eye clinic was God’s answer to her fervent prayers.  One week after her transplant, her daughter was seeing 20/20!   

4.  The very first full-blown retina surgery took place on Burundian soil yesterday on a 14 year old boy who had a stick go through his eye two weeks prior.  It only took seven hours to complete his surgery:)  Until now, if you were the average Burundian and had a retina problem that needed a laser or surgery, you simply went blind.  Now we have the only functional retinal laser in the country and are just now capable of providing retinal surgery for detachments and other complicated problems (thanks to Synergetics, Iridex, Occulus, Great Lakes Eye Care, Retina Global and many others).  

5.  A first about to happen.  On Sunday, at the break of dawn, the eye team plus Dr. Eric McLaughlin, will be heading out to do our first ever mobile surgical eye camp in Eastern Congo.  We would appreciate your prayers on our journey.  After Somalia, DRC in considered the second most failed state in the world, in large part due to the instability of Eastern Congo.  People need help there.  We’d like to be Christ’s hands and feet to offer that care.  Pray for gracious border officers who will not attempt to extort us or “tax” our critical eye equipment and supplies.  Pray for safety on lawless, remote roads.  Pray for the many patients who need care, that God will provide a way for them to get to us despite often impossible odds.  Pray that we will be able to share God’s love with them in our words and our deeds.

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