“I came into the hospital the day after surgery and heard a cacophony coming from the waiting room. All our patients were chatting and laughing. I wondered what was so funny, and the nurses explained that they were all seeing each other for the first time! They were recognising each other’s voices from when they arrived yesterday but today they were delighting in being able to both see and hear each other. It was wonderful to witness.”
One of our dedicated volunteer ophthalmologists, Dr Sara Booth-Mason has been involved with Foresight for a number of years and has travelled to the Adventist Hospital Santiago City in the Philippines for three surgical trips, alongside Foresight’s medical adviser and director, A/Prof. Geoffrey Painter.
Having lived and studied in the UK, Sara and her husband moved to Sydney with their family and set up an ophthalmology practice with A/Prof Painter in 1993. Sara says, once her children had grown up she was keen to again volunteer her time and expertise as part of Foresight’s surgical team.
“Having volunteered in West Africa earlier in my career, I was prepared somewhat for how it would be in the Philippines. I found the people to be lovely, gentle and family oriented,” she says.
“But I was also shocked by the severity of the cataracts in the patients we saw, making them completely blind at a relatively young age. There were people in their fifties and sixties who were so disabled by their cataracts that they had to be led into the clinic by family members, unable to see a thing.
“These people are from very poor communities and wanted to be out working and contributing to their families, so having a second chance at sight turned their lives around.”
Sara says that it was incredibly rewarding to help her patients regain their sight and some of them were able to see their grandchildren for the first time.
One of Sara’s patients was so blind, he had to be assisted to sit down and to feel the slit lamp machine in front of him for Sara to look into his eyes and undertake the tests. They managed to do both surgeries on the one trip and Sara says that the day after his final cataract surgery he was so happy and excited he could barely sit still for his post-operative checks.
“He was off! After the final eye check he literally ran down the corridor, jumped on to the back of his friend’s motorbike and sped away with a new lease of life. It was so rewarding knowing with such a marked improvement in his vision he could become a useful member of society again,” she says.
The complexity of the cataract surgery was another aspect that struck Sara: “Because the patient’s severity was so bad, the operations to remove the cataracts were difficult to perform, as they were white, hardened with weak supporting tissues and small pupils and some of them were reabsorbed into the eye.”
Sara says that the team donates a lot of equipment each time they visit, but there is a great need for better equipment to help improve quality and efficiency.
“Donations go right to the heart of the issue. It would be extremely helpful if we were able to purchase a new portable microscope as it would greatly assist our work and enable us to help more people during the trip,” says Sara.