A team from the ophthalmology service at Bexhill Hospital, together with colleagues from across the country, visited Colombia recently to carry out life-changing eye surgery on over 200 people who were unable to access healthcare, to improve their vision and quality of life.
Part of the Guru Projects Foundation charity, the aim of the Colombia project was to perform safe, effective and uncomplicated surgery replicating the high standards we have in the UK.
The chosen location for the project was the Hospital Universitario Erasmo Meoz in the city of Cucuta, northern Colombia. Through links with the hospital, they created a local screening team who successfully identified patients needing cataract surgery, pterygium surgery, and oculoplastic surgery. The team was led by Dr Juan Carlos Superlano, Consultant Ophthalmologist and patients were made aware of the project through local advertising platforms, radio and social media.
Once patients were identified, the cataract cases all had biometry measurements taken so a suitable intraocular lens could be chosen for implantation. All the patients were then given the details of when the charity would start operating.
Saruban Pasu, Consultant Ophthalmic Surgeon from Bexhill Hospital, said: “Starting at 7am and finishing at 7pm, the format of each day was the same. The first hour was dedicated to seeing all the new patients in clinic to explain the procedures and obtain informed consent.
“All post operative patients were seen in the morning clinic too. The rest of the working day was dedicated to surgery. We were allocated two theatres with three operating beds. Scrub nurse support was from the local team who were trained by Lesley Carter, Matron at Bexhill Hospital. Lesley did a fantastic job in training these highly skilled nurses in a completely new skill of assisting for ophthalmic cases. We were all amazed how quickly and efficiently they managed to acquire these skills and without them our project aims would not have been met.
“A good grasp of logistics was vital for the project to proceed with no issues, and thanks to Kanchan Sharma, a consultant neurologist from Bristol, and Nigel Olliff, a charity trustee from East Sussex, we all felt confident that we knew what our roles would be for each day.”
The three consultant ophthalmologists carried out over 200 procedures over the 10-day trip. Operating in a different environment with different equipment along with a language barrier proved a challenge that the surgeons relished. They confidently put to good use the skills they had acquired during their extensive training in the UK. On reflection it was clear that many of the cataracts were so visually disabling due to late presentation and a high incidence of trauma. The climate and hours of sunshine per day lends itself to the very high incidence of pterygia.
Saruban went on to say: “We also had the honour of running an educational programme with medical students at the Universidad de Santander. The links we formed here are something we will definitely build upon with a view to building some sustainability to treating ophthalmic patients.
“The highlight of the trip for all was seeing the patients post operatively. Seeing the tears of happiness with expressions of sheer joy and relief was a truly humbling experience for all the volunteers. Hearing how hard life had been for the patients with poor vision and knowing our work had successfully changed lives forever is a feeling none of us will ever forget. Seeing the smiles and really feeling the warmth in the hugs that many of the older patients offered made it clear to us that we really had made a difference to this community. A difference that would lead to an improvement in the quality of their lives and their surrounding network.
“Special thanks to all the administrators and managers at the Hospital Universitario Erasmo Meoz, and to Patricio Lopez and Carmen Elisa Araque Perez from the University of Santander. They were instrumental in facilitating our first project.”
The team comprised of six volunteers:
- Mr Saruban Pasu, Consultant Ophthalmologist and Charity founder/trustee, Bexhill Hospital
- Dr Kanchan Sharma, Consultant Neurologist, Bristol
- Mrs Lesley Carter, Matron, Bexhill Hospital
- Miss Evgenia Anikina, Consultant Ophthalmologist, Reading
- Mr Manuel Saldana, Consultant Ophthalmologist, Bexhill Hospital
- Mr Nigel Olliff (Charity Trustee, East Sussex)
The team, with the exception of Nigel Olliff, are pictured left to right in the photo above alongside Dr Juan Carlos Supralano, Consultant Ophthalmologist from Cucato, Colombia (third from left).
For more information or to donate to the charity visit: www.theguruprojects.com