Blindness in Paradise: Moran Outreach Teams Improving Eye Care in Micronesia

Feb 05, 2018 11:00 AM

Micronesia’s Chuuk State is a huge atoll where deep lagoons and coral reefs meet lush vegetation and crystalline blue skies.

But there, as in many developing countries, the blazing sun and light reflected off the water contribute to a high incidence of cataracts and pterygium—a scarring growth that gradually covers the front of the eye.

Most of the population don’t wear protective sunglasses, as that goes against cultural norms. In fact, it’s seen as a sign of ‘putting on airs,’ making eye protection a constant challenge. A lack of access to care adds to the high rate of blindness: there is just one ophthalmologist for all 70 of the country’s inhabited islands.

The John A. Moran Eye Center’s Global Outreach Division team is rising to the challenge of creating sustainable eye care in Micronesia, most recently traveling 6,200 miles from Salt Lake City in fall 2017 to provide sight-restoring care and teach and train medical personnel. Between Oct. 27 and Nov. 5, Moran volunteer physicians, nurses, and technicians performed 250 surgeries, 55 laser procedures, and 978 eye exams.

Restoring Lives
While the trip was Moran’s first visit to Chuuk State, it was Moran’s fourth to Micronesia. On each trip, the team has treated a number of patients with traumatic cataracts caused by physical altercations.

Mikter was one such patient on the recent visit. A mother of eight, she was hit in the eye with a heavy flashlight more than 20 years ago. The injury immediately affected her vision, and it got worse over time as she developed a rare perpendicular cataract—a hardened lens that was literally protruding through her pupil.
Before Moran’s Alan Crandall, MD, successfully removed it, she said “I sometimes cry because I can’t see.” Afterwards, with a new lens in her eye, she said, “Now I’m crying because I can see—a happy cry.”

Hope in Eyeglasses
For the first time in Micronesia, the Moran team was able to conduct exams, measure and assemble eyeglasses for patients with astigmatism. With frames and an array of pre-made lenses from First Sight, a Nebraska-based nonprofit, each pair of glasses cost only $4.75. Technicians measured and fit these prescription glasses for 170 people. They also distributed 940 pairs of reading glasses.

Teaching and Training
As they have done on each visit, the team worked closely with Dr. Padwick Gallin, Micronesia’s first and only ophthalmologist. Dr. Gallin continues to hone his surgical skills as Moran physicians to train him in a range of procedures.

With just one ophthalmologist for all 70 inhabited islands of the FSM, Moran’s work makes a tremendous difference as visiting physicians restore sight to people of all ages. In most cases, a simple cataract operation changes lives, allowing patients to go back to work or school and their families to be freed from caretaking.

Future Needs
“One of the biggest needs in Micronesia is staff support around Dr. Gallin,” says Eric Hansen, MD, Moran’s International Fellow. “A second nurse is currently training in Fiji to be an ophthalmic nurse and that will be huge, as Dr. Gallin’s only nurse works exclusively in the operating room and also functions as the nurse anesthetist. Along the work Moran has done, it’s another step toward to the effort to create sustainable eye care in Micronesia.”

Moran’s outreach work is funded solely by donors. Join efforts to create sustainable eye care around the globe here.