Thursday, March 5, 2015

Better Vision Comes to Rancho Santa Fe

Enjoy this reflection from Jean Parker on her recent experience at NPH Honduras. The mother is currently living at a home for the blind, while her daughter is enrolled at NPH Honduras.

My daughter, Joanna (14) had been nagging me to return to Rancho Santa Fe in Honduras since our first visit in 2013. When a trip planned by Monica Henry, NPH Northeast Regional Director, coincided with a school break, Joanna’s resolve went into overdrive and she convinced her friend, Laura (14) to join us. In the end, Laura, her brother Kevin (16), and her father, Dr. Richard Seeger – an ophthalmologist - would round out the Rochester contingency.

Dr. Seeger was interested in putting his medical skills to use during the visit, and had pre-arranged with Monica Henry, NPH USA Mid-Atlantic/Northeast Region Director, and Michael Kavanagh, the International Volunteer Coordinator of Holy Family Surgery Center at the Ranch, to see pequeños for a special, three day Vision Clinic.

While the children explored the Ranch and got to know the pequeños, Dr. Seeger checked equipment and set up the examination area.  My job was to record exam findings. A translator was provided and kept the paperwork and patients flowing.  Thanks to this team effort, Dr. Seeger was able to provide eye care for over 60 Pequeños and others during the three-day period.

Each day, Dr. Seeger worked tirelessly with only limited breaks. Some children required minor attention, but most received full ophthalmic exams with pupil dilation.   For those needing prescription eyeglasses, Dr. Seeger had come prepared, bringing an assortment of frames from which to choose.  Girls were drawn to the brighter colors.  Boys chose darker ones.  Dr. Seeger had the eyeglasses prepared back in Rochester, and they were shipped down to Honduras afterwards.

As word spread that an eye doctor was at the clinic, several staff also requested appointments.  Dr. Seeger accommodated each one.   Doña Gloria – the Ranch’s beloved tortilla maker - was the recipient of two pairs of glasses:  one for reading and one for everyday wear.

Although it was immensely gratifying to me to be of assistance during the Vision Clinic, the most poignant moment of the trip came on the last day, as Dr. Seeger and I were walking back to the visitor’s residence.   We were met by a group of women who were leading a blind teenaged girl and a younger girl by the hand.  Monica was with them, and we were told that the blind teenager was the mother of the young girl, and that she was concerned that her daughter might be going blind, as she had when she was her age.   This was of great concern because the child had become her blind mother’s ‘eyes’ – guiding her everywhere.  Dr. Seeger did not hesitate; he pulled out his ophthalmic light, dropping to one knee to examine the petite child.  Happily, he determined that her eyes were healthy.

Monica translated this to the girl’s mother and Dr. Seeger offered to look at the mother’s eyes as well. After only a brief glance, he asked to speak privately to Monica and the accompanying Tia.  I was perplexed, but remained with the young mother, her daughter, and the others.  It was only later that I learned the reason for Rick’s action.

Although the young mother had been initially reticent to share the truth about her blindness, the facts soon emerged.  She had been the victim of a horrific crime and had been intentionally blinded by acid.   Dr. Seeger knew the instant he had looked at her eyes that her blindness had been caused by trauma, and not as initially described.

Upon closer examination, Dr. Seeger established that although one eye was irreparably damaged, there was optimism that some vision might be restored in the other. A trip to the USA for delicate eye surgery would be necessary, with the hope that she would be able to ambulate on her own – a remarkable improvement over her present situation.

This event brought a bittersweet, yet hopeful closure to the Vision Clinic at Rancho Santa Fe.  Led by Dr. Seeger, the team brought the gift of better vision to many. To me, those few days were truly a blessing and I was grateful to have been able to play some small role in the outcome.  I thank God for Joanna’s determination in returning to Honduras, because in the end, it set the stage for so many Pequeños and others to see life more clearly… quite literally.

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