It’s not every 17-year-old who can say she helped restore sight to a hundred impoverished people in a remote area of Peru. But Kristin Jorizzo can. She’s the daughter of Medical Eye Center’s Dr. Paul Jorizzo. Kristen and her father spent 12 days in Huamachuco, Peru, as part of a medical expedition coordinated by Surgical Eye Expeditions International (SEE)—a non-profit humanitarian organization that provides medical, surgical, and educational services by volunteer ophthalmic surgeons with the primary objective of restoring sight to disadvantaged blind individuals worldwide.
“The people of Huamachuco were some of the most amazing and caring people that I have ever met,” says Kristen. “Being able to help them was a gratifying experience which I will hold with me forever.” She prepared for the trip by working at MEC for the past few summers, assisting in research projects and as well as helping in the role of ophthalmic technician and surgical technician.
Inspired by her father’s involvement, Kristen has developed a strong commitment to international aid. “I plan on getting my school involved with the town of Huamachuco and the people in surrounding villages,” she says. “While it may not be the most impoverished place on earth, the people there could truly use our help and that’s what is most important. The experiences that I had there will be with me forever and guide me through future expeditions. The fact that I was able to share this experience with my dad made it even more special.”
The Jorizzos, joined by MEC Surgical Assistant Nolan Sargent and a team of eye surgeons and technicians, traveled to the Andes Mountains to perform cataract surgery on approximately 100 indigent patients. A cataract is a cloudiness that develops in the otherwise clear crystalline lens of the eye, deteriorating the vision to blindness. Patients in developing nations who could otherwise be productive members of their families and society become a burden when cataracts disable them. By performing modern cataract operations, SEE volunteers are able to return vision to those who generally do not even have access to basic health services. After a quick recovery these patients can return to work and become productive again. Additionally, the traveling surgeons teach the local Peruvian doctors the techniques they can use to help many more needy patients in their country.
Putting together an air-transportable, modern surgical package was a huge undertaking that required a cohesive surgical team and support personnel who gave of their time selflessly. National medical supply companies such as Johnson & Johnson, Bausch & Lomb, and Alcon donate almost all the equipment and supplies needed for the free medical clinics. The volunteers donate their time and pay for all of their own travel expenses.
“Our time in Peru was truly special for me,” said Dr. Jorizzo. “The town of Huamachuco has no access to eye care. Many patients had such severe cataracts that they could only perceive light, and several walked for four hours to see us. The changes that we were able to make in their lives were extremely gratifying, and being able to share this experience with my daughter, Kristen, was certainly something that I will always treasure.”
Founded by a California eye surgeon in 1974, SEE has coordinated the work of hundreds of surgeons in performing thousands of sight saving operations in countries throughout the world. To learn more visit the SEE International website.