Vision is one of our most precious gifts. At Vance Thompson Vision, we’re fortunate to be able to care for our patients’ vision every day of the year at our clinics and surgery centers. This Christmas, we’re donating to two organizations that help share the gift of vision with people in the countries of Sierra Leone in Africa and Honduras in Central America on behalf of the clinics and doctors we work with in our own communities. These two places hold a special place in our hearts as our surgeons and staff have traveled there to provide surgical care for people who might otherwise go blind, to help train local physicians in eye treatments, and to help build up eye care where access is limited. We are inspired by the efforts of providers with limited resources to do everything they can to help restore vision for people in their communities.
Sierra Leone, West Africa
The Gess Eye Hospital was founded over 50 years ago by Dr. Lowell Gess, grandfather to Dr. Deborah Ristvedt, and has served millions of patients since opening. Dr. Ristvedt and her husband, clinic director Eric Ristvedt, traveled there this summer to provide free surgeries to people with cataracts and glaucoma. At the Gess Eye Hospital, cataract surgery costs $50—a price too high for many who live there. The Ristvedts fundraise throughout the year to help offset those costs for patients who are at risk for losing their sight.
The current facility now includes a new ambulatory surgery center but a need for a retina facility persists in the community. Plans for the first and only retina surgery center in West Africa, called the West African Center of Excellence in Vision Care, are underway. The Ristvedts are determined to raise $200,000 for the new vision care center by the end of 2019. Not only will the new facility provide much-needed services for retina care, it will also serve as a beacon of hope for the people of West Africa.
Dr. Lowell Gess brought his family to Sierra Leone expecting to practice as a general physician, but what he found was a desperate need for surgical eye care services. He filled that gap by becoming an ophthalmologist and performing vision-saving procedures like cataract and glaucoma surgeries. Now, Dr. Ristvedt continues his legacy by widening the Gess Eye Hospital’s abilities to serve patients needing retina care.
At the beginning of 2018, a team of doctors and staff from Vance Thompson Vision had an opportunity to serve on a medical mission trip to the San Felipe Hospital in Tegucigalpa, Honduras. While the clinic and surgery center where they worked were far different than their own, they found a shared purpose and dedication with the Honduran eye care professionals.
“We spent a lot of time with the clinic’s attending doctors, in particular, their chief residents,” said Dr. Swan, one of the surgeons on the VTV team. “It was amazing to get to see them blossom—from surgeons who were nervous about some of the steps for a more complicated procedure, and seeing them turn into more passionate and efficient surgeons."
While there were the inevitable language barriers, a hug or a handshake can be a powerful bridge.
“The nonverbal communication was so important, just smiling with them when it was hard to have a conversation went a long way,” said Jessica Madson. “The biggest takeaway was that everyone, including our team, was very vulnerable and just learning in how to be comfortable with that.”
A lot was accomplished in a short time, but the Vance Thompson Vision team is determined that this will not simply be a one-time trip. We are developing a relationship that will continue to enhance eye care in Honduras in a way that is sustainable over the long-term. Our primary focus is on training the Honduran attendees and residents. Each VTV doctor sets aside time to work with the local doctors to refine their skills and teach them techniques. In this way, thousands of patients will eventually be impacted, long after our team returns home. We look forward to developing this relationship in years to come as the Vance Thompson Vision team invests in sharing their combined years of experience with the ophthalmology residents in Honduras.