Saturday, January 2, 2010

Happy News - The Gift of Vision

Ophthalmologist Dr. Vivian K. Fasula, left, and opticians Arnold Edelman and Marsha Edelman, will be going to Nicaragua on Jan. 16 for two weeks to provide sight-saving services to the poor.

photo by Harry Scull Jr./Buffalo News

On a distant mission to give sight, eye doctors from Lockport, Western New York will take their services on the road to help needy in Nicaragua.

For the third consecutive year, Dr. Vivian K. Fasula will be in a remote part of Central America, using her skills to help impoverished patients whose vision problems, ranging from crossed eyes to blindness, wouldn’t be treated otherwise.

Dr. Fasula and two opticians, Marsha and Arnold Edelman, will leave Jan. 16 for San Carlos, Nicaragua, on a two-week mission organized by Medical Ministry International. The interdenominational Christian group puts together about 65 overseas medical, surgical, dental and eye missions each year, sending volunteer doctors and nurses to impoverished countries.

Their January schedule includes missions to the Dominican Republic, Malaysia, Jordan, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, the Philippines and Guatemala. Nicaragua is the second-poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.

Dr. Fasula who has been practicing in Lockport since 1984, will be in San Carlos for the second consecutive winter.

Last year, after landing in Managua, the capital, the doctors were taken by military helicopter to San Carlos, which has a regional population of about 9,000. The 180-mile journey would have taken 12 hours using the challenging roads.

For the local residents it is a 12-hour slog through the rain forest to get from San Carlos to the nearest ophthalmologist, in Managua.

Besides helping new patients she will visit last year’s patients to follow up on the cases of those she operated on to correct crossed eyes, those whose cataracts she removed and a boy whose sight she saved after a stick pierced his eye.

Being cross-eyed isn’t just a cosmetic problem; it can produce double vision and eventually blindness. “After a while, the brain just shuts that eye off,” Fasula said.

“There are a lot of cataracts. We ended up doing about 200 [last year],” Dr. Fasula said. The hospital in San Carlos had decent lighting and anesthetic equipment, but no microscope, a must for sensitive eye operations. So they brought one with them.

Five thousand pairs of used glasses, mostly gathered by Lions and Rotary clubs, were distributed to the locals, who lined up for hours before the eye clinic opened at 6 a. m.

Manufacturers donate all the medical supplies. Last year, armed Nicaraguan Army troops drove the materials to San Carlos.

“One lady had the densest cataract I’ve ever seen in my life,” Fasula said. “Some of these people were totally blind with the cataracts.”

One 14-year-old girl, Wendy, was blind because of her cross-eyed condition and because of childhood surgery for congenital cataracts that wasn’t followed up with proper treatment. Her parents walked in with her from a town four hours away from San Carlos.

Wendy’s eyes were repaired, and she was given glasses. “She can see for the first time in her life. It was like a miracle,” Fasula said. “This year when I come back, I’m going to have [lens] implants for her.”

“When I returned home and when I went to bed at night I was thinking of the patients. I started thinking - why was I so lucky to be born in this beautiful country that we live in? There but for the grace of God could have been one of my children.”

The volunteers must pay all their expenses. “It’s $975 per person; we don’t know what the airfare is,” Arnold Edelman said. Whatever the tickets cost, the doctors will have to pay. The total tab will probably be about $2,500 each.

excerpts of this article taken from

When I lived in El Salvador I witnessed similar teams of physicians who would come annually to treat local residents. I can also testify that those glasses that you may have contributed to the Lions club really do get used. One of the things that I did there was to distribute the previously used glasses to those losing their sight. The people were so happy to receive them.
I also would often ask myself 'how did I get so lucky to be born in a country (England) with top medical care available to every person there?'

Many thanks to these volunteers for stepping up to help others.

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