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Doctor and technician team revive Afghan youth's vision

Maj. Marcus Neuffer, 455th Expeditionary Medical Group ophthalmologist, examines and compares the eyes of a six-year-old Afghan patient in the Joint Craig Theater Hospital Ophthalmologist Clinic on Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, July 6, 2013. He recently completed a surgery on her right eye to correct a cataract. The girl had been diagnosed with cataracts in both eyes in May. A cataract is an eye disease in which the clear lens of the eye becomes cloudy and opaque, causing a decrease in vision. The lens is replaced in surgery, without treatment a cataract can result in a complete loss of vision. (U.S. Air Force photo/ Staff Sgt. Stephenie Wade)

Maj. Marcus Neuffer examines and compares the eyes of a six-year-old Afghan patient July 6, 2013, at the Joint Craig Theater Hospital Ophthalmologist Clinic, Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan. Neuffer recently completed a surgery on her right eye to correct a cataract. Neuffer is a 455th Expeditionary Medical Group ophthalmologist. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Stephenie Wade)

Local Afghan patients wait to be seen in the Korean Hospital on Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, July 10. The hospital is one of two hospitals that treat walk-in, local-national patients (U.S. Air Force photo/ Staff Sgt. Stephenie Wade)

Local Afghan patients wait to be seen in the Korean Hospital July 10, 2013, at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan. The hospital is one of two hospitals that treat walk-in, local-national patients. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Stephenie Wade)

Maj. Marcus Neuffer, 455th Expeditionary Medical Group ophthalmologist, and his technician, Airman 1st Class Chellbie Gonzales, conduct an ultrasound on the left eye of a 12-month boy in the Korean hospital on Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, July 7. Neuffer is currently the only doctor on Bagram who is qualified to operate on eyes. If a local patient comes in to one of the humanitarian hospitals, the Korean or Egyptian hospital, and is need of an eye surgery, they are brought to the American hospital. According to Nueffer, a child’s eye sight stops developing at about eight. If corrective surgery can be performed before then, with glasses, children should be able to regain enough vision to perform daily tasks. Both Maj Neuffer and A1C Gonzales are deployed from Keesler Air Force Base, Miss.  (U.S. Air Force photo/ Staff Sgt. Stephenie Wade)

Maj. Marcus Neuffer, an ophthalmologist, and his technician Airman 1st Class Chellbie Gonzales conduct an ultrasound on the left eye of a 12-month-old boy July 7, 2013, in the Korean hospital at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan. Neuffer is currently the only doctor at Bagram who is qualified to operate on eyes. Neuffer and Gonzales are with the 455th Expeditionary Medical Group. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Stephenie Wade)

BAGRAM AIRFIELD, Afghanistan (AFNS) -- "Providing children vision gives them a better chance at life in Afghanistan, "said Maj. Marcus Neuffer, an ophthalmologist assigned to the Craig Joint Theater Hospital at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan.

Here if children cannot see to perform normal daily tasks, there is a possibility they will be left behind in their village to fend for themselves.

Neuffer's primary job here is to take care of patients with traumatic eye injuries, but when he is not busy in the operation room, Neuffer and his technician, Airman 1st Class Chellbie Gonzales, spend their spare time providing humanitarian support to local nationals.

"At home we mainly perform refractive surgery and provide specialty eye care," Neuffer said.

Gonzales serves as Neuffer's assistant both here and at their home base, Keesler Air Force Base, Miss. They are both serving their first deployment and humanitarian effort.

Every week they go to the Korean hospital to treat patients from off base.

"The eye injuries and conditions here are not common in the Unites States because the environment, health care system and patient demographics are different," Neuffer said.

Neuffer is currently the only doctor at Bagram Airfield who is qualified to operate on eyes. If a local patient comes to one of the humanitarian hospitals and is need of an eye surgery, they are brought to Craig Joint Theater Hospital. So far Neuffer has operated on a dozen Afghan patients.

"I have performed cataract surgery on three children here so far; a 12-month-old boy, a six-year-old girl and an eight-year-old boy," Neuffer said. "A child's eye sight stops developing at about (age) eight. If I can perform surgery before then, with glasses, the children should be able to regain enough vision to perform daily tasks."

Cataracts are typically seen in older adults and severely limit vision. In the U.S., when found in children, cataracts are usually removed within the first two months of life.

"Unfortunately the Afghan children don't have as good of health care here, and some are left blind their whole life," Gonzales said. "It's hard to tell exactly how old each patient is because the lack of medical care and records."

After the surgery, Gonzales schedules follow-up appointments for one day, one week and one month out to track the patient's progress, she said. On the second appointment glasses are issued.

"My job is very rewarding here," Gonzales said. "There's something special about seeing the children recognize objects and interact with the world."

Neuffer said so far the outcome of these procedures on children has been good. For one eight-year-old-boy, it's been an awakening. Months ago, he picked up a land mine while playing outside, which then exploded in his hands, resulting in cataracts beside other injuries.

"When I first met him, his father led him by the hand because he could only see light," Neuffer said. "A week after his surgery when the bandages came off, he put on glasses I gave him, and he was able to see our faces. He was so excited he could see again he jumped up, pushed his family out of the way and ran straight into a wall. It was a happy but comical moment for us."

Neuffer said he joined the Air Force to help those in need.

"Someday when this place is safer, I hope to establish a program that will help everyone," Neuffer said. "For now my goal is to give children as much vision as possible. Having vision allows people to work and contribute to make their society better."

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