$25 Will Restore A Blind Person’s Sight

By Albert Chi—

If you’re a photographer or artist, eyesight is everything. That’s why a recent column in the New York Times by Nicholas Kristof caught my attention when he recommended several charities, one of which he’d personally visited in Nepal called the Cure Blindness Project.

I thought it might be of special interest to those who are in, or love, the visual arts and want to make a one-on-one contribution to a cause that probably gives the greatest return on investment tnan many others, especially since it goes directly to restoring someone’s eyesight.

Thuli Maya Thing expresses her joy at being able to see again as she and other Nepalis wait for post-op exams after being told to remove their eye shields. Image by Nicholas Kristof © The New York Times.

Each of your eyes has a lens through which light passes, allowing you to see. But they can begin to cloud up, eventually causing blindness. They’re called cataracts (obstructions) and there’s a very good chance you may, in time, develop them and need surgery to replace the lenses. Unlike an organ transplant, though, there’s no waiting for a replacement; the new lens will be synthetic.

I’m going to quote from Nick Kristof’s article here:

“Dr. Sanduk Ruit, 61, a Nepali ophthalmologist, may be the world champion in the war on blindness. Some 39 million people worldwide are blind — about half because of cataracts — and another 246 million have impaired vision, according to the World Health Organization.

“If you’re a blind person in a poor country, then traditionally you have no hope. But Dr. Ruit has pioneered a simple cataract microsurgery technique that costs only $25 per patient and is virtually always successful. Indeed, his “Nepal method” is now taught in United States medical schools.”

There’s an upside to having cataracts…it’s curable. In the U.S. you can have cataract surgery done for about $3,500 per eye and, chances are, your health insurance will pay for most of it. But what about the millions of people throughout the world who can’t afford –what would be to them– that astronomical price ? And so that’s what Dr. Ruit set out to remedy.

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The surgery itself is simple and takes about 10 minutes for each eye. An incision is made, the cloudy lens removed, and a synthetic lens (that will never cloud up) is slipped into its place. Stitches are not required but a protective plastic shield is taped over the eye to protect it while it heals. When it’s removed, patients can see again. Dr. Ruit has operated on more than 100,000 people using his technique.

Visiting Dr. Ruit several years ago after climbing Mr. Everest,, Dr. Jeffrey Tabin, an eye specialist at the University of Utah’s Moran Eye Center, teamed up with him to form a charity that would enable them to expand the technique to other countries, Ethiopia and Ghana, for example. They also began to train medical personnel, and then set up a factory to produce 450,000 synthetic lenses a year, at $3 each, considerably less than the usual $200 cost in the West. These are now exported to more than 50 countries.

Nick Kristof recalls his visit to Dr. Ruit’s clinic:

“One patient was Thuli Maya Thing, a woman of 50 who says she has struggled to look after her children since losing her sight to cataracts in the last few years. Because of her blindness and inability to work, the family sometimes goes hungry. “I can’t fetch firewood or water,” Thuli Maya told me. “I can’t cook food. I fall down many times. I’ve been burned by the fire.”

“So Thuli Maya was waiting outside the eye hospital that Dr. Ruit has established here, nervous but also eager with anticipation. “I will be able to see my children and husband again — that’s what I look forward to most,” she said.

Thuli Maya Thing was blind from cataracts when Dr. Sanduk Ruit examined her. After surgery she had 20/20 vision. Image by Nicholas Kristof ©The New York Times.

“She was led to the operating theater, and her eyes were injected with local anesthetic. After hoisting her left eye wide open with an eyelid speculum, Dr. Ruit peered through a microscope as he made a tiny incision in her eyeball and then tugged out the cataract — and placed it in my palm. It was hard and yellowish, perhaps a third of an inch in diameter, a tiny opaque disk that had devastated Thuli Maya’s life.

“Dr. Ruit inserted a tiny new lens into the eye and he was done. The process took just five minutes. Then he repeated the process for Thuli Maya’s right eye, confident that she would see again.”

After reading Nick’s article, in which I was assured that Cure Blindness is a legitimate charity, I visited their site, viewed an excellent video, read about their work— and then contributed to their efforts.

I can think of no better way to spend $25 than to know it will be a gift that gives someone back their eyesight.

RESOURCES

Find out more about Cure Blindness  and make a donation. Each $25 gift will cover the cost of cataract surgery to restore the sight of one patient’s eye.

 

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2 Comments

  1. Hi RRP,
    Great paper
    I have never heard about this charity, but it sounded like a great one to receive a Christmas donation. Thank you for sharing their mission.

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  2. Sure would be nice to make that surgery available in richer countries like the USA as well. At $25 vs. $3,500, a lot more people could be helped.

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