Ophthalmology teams give Guyanese the gift of sight

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Derrick Seifert
  • 12th Air Force (Air Forces Southern)

U.S. military ophthalmology teams deployed in support of New Horizons training exercise 2019 and partnered with Guyanese doctors at the Port Mourant Hospital in Port Mourant, Guyana, May 6-16.

The ophthalmology center at the Port Mourant Hospital was established to provide aid to the Guyanese population by screening and selecting patients to receive cataract and pterygium surgery in support of NH19.

Many of the Guyanese patients have been waiting years to receive either cataract or pterygium surgery to regain their vision.

“Normally, we see over 1,500 patients a month and we have a backlog of over 800 patients who have been waiting for surgery, some over five years,” said Dr. Devendra Radhy, Port Mourant Hospital doctor in charge. “Unfortunately, the ophthalmology clinic was unable to perform cataract surgeries until last week when we had a team partnered with a Guyana doctor who was able to do 22 surgeries. That was a kick start and hopefully we can continue this flow and get through our backlog.”

According to Rahdy, cataract and pterygium surgery can cost between 80,000 to 100,000 Guyanese dollars, which is close to 500 U.S. dollars. Many of the patients range between the ages of 50 to 80 and are poor, with an average annual household income of less than $4,000 U.S. dollars.

With the support of the U.S. military and NH19, Radhy has seen a dramatic change in his patients.

“Having the Americans here at this moment changes everything in the sense of how people look at the ophthalmology center,” Radhy said. “They can readily say that we are providing the service they have been waiting for a long time for. With this, you can see a different look in the patients. It’s more positive. Even from last Monday, when we started calling the patients, you see more smiles, laughing and joy knowing they will have the surgery done.”

This exercise provides U.S. military members an opportunity to train for an overseas deployment. It promotes bilateral cooperation by providing opportunities for U.S. and partner nation military engineers, medical personnel and support staff to work and train side by side.

“Our primary purpose is to train our (U.S. service members) on combat relevant eye care,” said Army Col. Darrel Carlton, Brooke Army Medical Center, San Antonio, regional health command central consultant for ophthalmology. “Our component of the exercise is the ophthalmology side where we will be conducting cataract and pterygium surgeries, while at the same time training our Airmen and Soldiers to take care of cataracts because the techniques we use in this setting are similar to what we can expect to see in places like Iraq and Syria without seeing the trauma.”

The ophthalmology component of New Horizons exercise 2019 came to an end on May 16th, with a closing ceremony and remarks from a Guyanese patient.

“I want to say that you have done an excellent job for us Guyanese, whichever part of Guyana they came from looking for a service that they badly in need of,” said Joyce Marks, Guyanese patient. “I want to let you know, on behalf of all the Guyanese that you attended to, that we are very, very, very grateful for that service. And I ask that God continues to bless you all with the gift and knowledge that he has imparted in all of you for the benefit of not only yourself, but for all of mankind that comes in contact with you.”

Another team of U.S. military medical professionals will replace the ophthalmology team to conduct a two week surgical readiness training exercise at a women’s health clinic.