In the Amazon region of Colombia, along the Peruvian and Brazilian border, there are now around 2,700 more bespectacled people than there were a few weeks ago.
In January of 2013 Florida doctor Carey Rowan was among a team of over 65 surgeons, nurses, and volunteers who flew into the city of Leticia in the Colombian jungle and over a two-week period improved the sight of over 600 patients a day.
“The idea is to go in force, to just get in there and get it done,” the doctor told Colombia Reports. “They came by car, by motorcycle, by foot and by canoe,” said Rowan. “The lines were around the city block. We were hitting people with these glasses. People who have never had glasses before, people who have never seen across the street before.”
In just two weeks, around 2,700 pairs of glasses were given out. These glasses are donated in the United States and collected and marked with the prescription. “The glasses may not be perfect but they’re close,” said the surgeon.
“I was doing the surgery part in this little hospital. It was all sanitized, but like they do it in Russia with three surgeons operating in the same room and two assistants each,” said Rowan. “The patients can’t see the [faces of the] people who helped them come to the surgery, but the following day we take off the patch and they can see things they haven’t seen for five or ten years. It’s really beautiful,” said the doctor. According to Rowan, several hundred surgeries were carried out over a 12-day period.
In the U.S. cataract surgery takes 7–9 minutes with a special machine. In Leticia, there was no machine so the operation took around 20 minutes, however the surgeons still managed to complete 25 to 30 operations a day.
According to Rowan there is a huge shortage of ophthalmologists in South America, especially in rural areas. “If there were local ones we wouldn’t do it. But as it was, there was a tremendous amount of local support.”
The mission was organized by the Christian group Medical Ministry International, which organizes medical interventions in 22 countries around the world. The system works, according to the surgeon because it is a blitzkrieg operation and “the volunteers just have to leave their families and their work for two weeks then they can come back. Also with other surgeries, you need to be there for aftercare and to check blood pressure for a few weeks…but with eyes there is a big impact in a short period of time.”
The group has been to Leticia maybe five or six times, according to Rowan, and he intends to go back again. “I am addicted,” he said. “In the coming years we will go further into the jungle, closer to the tribes. We took a little excursion up there this time and it was a several-hour trip on a fast boat. They don’t have fast boats to come to us.”
- Interview with Dr. Carey Rowan