In the Same Boat
“Oftalmologia humanitaria” – my experience on an expedition to prevent sight loss in a remote region of the Amazon
Johanna Wiedemann | | Longer Read
In March 2020, I joined a group of highly trained surgeons and select members of the medical community – mainly ophthalmologists – on an expedition through the Amazon. The aim: to restore sight and prevent blindness. The Instituto da Visão-IPEPO from São Paulo, Brazil, provides cataract surgical services, free glasses, and tertiary eye care to cover a population of over two million people in metropolitan São Paulo, the Amazon, and beyond, with the use of telemedicine and other innovative technologies.
The surgical team included four surgeons: Lincoln Freitas, Fernando Drudi, Marcos Cohen, and Barbara Clemente, as well as two technicians. I watched numerous surgeries over a couple of days, and Lincoln Freitas devoted a day to teaching me how to perform surgery step by step. He has a vast experience in anterior segment surgery, but he is also an incredibly calm and patient teacher, and he taught me the 12 steps of cataract surgery back to front, as every potential mistake has an impact on the surgery, and makes it more difficult. We started with the removal of Healon from the anterior chamber after IOL implantation, and finished with capsulorrhexis, the early but decisive step.
Operating conditions in the Amazon were (unsurprisingly) very different to the hospitals I had worked in, but it was amazing to see that it is possible to practice responsible medicine using simple means, sometimes it called for creativity.
What struck me the most were the interactions between medical staff and patients: everyone talked to each other in a very warm, heartfelt way. We felt united under a common cause.
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