Nepal Earthquake: Supporting the Relief Effort
On April 25, 2015, a 7.8 magnitude earthquake devastated the Himalayan country of Nepal. The Himalayan Cataract Project (HCP) is taking a leading role in the medical and humanitarian relief efforts throughout the country. HCP has been providing medical services in Nepal for over 20 years. Their remote eye teams have a long-term relationship with many of the rural communities most affected by the earthquake.
The Himalayan Cataract Project’s co-founder Dr. Sanduk Ruit and all of HCP’s partners and friends at the Tilganga Institute of Ophthalmology are safe. The eye hospital is still standing and functioning. Unfortunately, several colleagues have lost their homes and countless acquaintances have died. Many outlying communities and villages are completely destroyed. Power, water, and transportation are devastated. Partners at Tilganga are working around the clock to treat patients with eye trauma and other injuries.
We need the worldwide ophthalmology community to help Nepal recover. The Himalayan Cataract Project will fund direct relief and free treatment for trauma victims with a special account called “Nepal Relief.” 100% of the funds raised will go directly to the relief efforts coordinated by Dr. Ruit in Nepal.
Pullahari Monastery, Kathmandu, Nepal
In October, 2015, Drs. Matt Oliva and John Welling had the opportunity to join Himalayan Cataract Project co-founder Dr. Sanduk Ruit for a two day cataract outreach at the beautiful Pullahari Monastery, atop the foothills overlooking the Kathmandu Valley. A sacred site for the 200 or so monks who make this their home, Pullahari is covered with intricate carvings and painted with a bright array of reds, golds, and other bold colors. The hilltop on which it sits is a network of steep trails connecting numerous shrines and temples, with hundreds of prayer flags waving overhead.
Although stoic, the patients can’t help but project some of the anxiety they feel as they prepare for surgery. The operating rooms are a model of efficiency. The scrub nurses have assisted in tens of thousands of surgeries and anticipate the surgeon’s every move, passing the needed instruments without being asked. The surgeons’ movements are unhurried and precise. Within just a few minutes a dense cataract is removed, a clear prosthetic lens inserted in its place. As soon as one surgery is complete, the next patient is immediately laid on the table and the process is repeated—over and over and over, from early morning, into the dark of night.
The morning after surgery is when the magic happens. Surrounded by family members, the patients line up on the front steps of the monastery, waiting for the surgeon to remove their patches. As a patch is removed, loved ones look on in anxious anticipation. In the bright morning light, initial blinking and squinting give way to broad smiles of recognition as patients see the faces of loved ones whom, in some cases, they may not have seen for years.
The beauty of the people is matched only by the beauty of this moment when sight is restored and new life is given. Together, 227 patients, along with their families, start the long trek home looking forward to this new life and the opportunities it will bring. The monks, surgeons, and staff return to their respective lives, deeply grateful for the opportunity to participate, and already looking forward to next year.
The Himalayan Cataract Project
As part of a surgical team put together by the Himalayan Cataract Project, doctors Matt Oliva and Paul Imperia spent two weeks in Nepal participating in cataract camps where over 300 surgeries were performed on underprivileged patients from rural areas. According to Dr. Oliva, “I first got interested in alleviating global blindness because one of my mentors founded the HCP. After my first trip, I was hooked. We are establishing centers of excellence for eyecare in the developing world, and we are working in partnership with the UN, the UNDP, the Millennium Promise, and the Earth Institute at Columbia University.”
Drs. Oliva and Imperia also spent time at the Tilganga Eye Hospital in Kathmandu teaching ophthalmology residents, working with the eye bank, doing corneal surgery, and exchanging skills with the faculty. They also traveled to southern Nepal, to the Hetauda Eye Hospital, to teach modern phacoemulsification cataract surgery. Dr. Sanduk Ruit, the director of the Tilganga Eye Hospital and a pioneer in providing cataract surgery to the poor in Nepal, spent time with the doctors planning a future project to bring Lasik surgery to Nepal. Lasik could potentially have a large impact on visual impairment amongst poor, rural patients who have poor vision simply because they have no sustainable access to eyeglasses.
The Himalayan Cataract Project (HCP) is establishing a sustainable eye care infrastructure in the Himalaya that empowers local doctors to provide high-quality ophthalmic care through skills-transfer and education. The HCP responds to a pressing need for eye care in the Himalayan region. Our programs in Nepal, Tibet, China, Bhutan, India, Sikkim, and Pakistan have restored sight to tens of thousands of blind people every year since 1994. For more information on HCP visit www.cureblindness.org