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Hospital of Central Connecticut eye surgeon volunteers in Costa Rica

New Britain [October 19 2007] - The greatest joy Hospital of Central Connecticut ophthalmologist Alan Stern, M.D., has as a volunteer with Vision Health International (VHI) is knowing he and the VHI team are helping improve lives by restoring better vision to residents of Latin America. He only wishes they could treat more people.

“People don’t see and the next day they see,” says Stern, who recently completed his fourth week-long VHI trip to Central America, having gone to Costa Rica in late September where he averaged six surgeries daily to correct glaucoma, cataracts, and crossed eyes (strabismus).

In 2001, 2005 and 2006, Stern and his wife, Cyndi, also a VHI volunteer, went to Nicaragua. The trips are extremely rewarding, says Stern, a VHI board member. “It’s a way to give back to a very needy society.”

VHI was founded by an ophthalmologist in 1985 and provides free vision care to needy people in developing countries. This includes eye exams, provision of eyeglasses, and surgical procedures.

The team of about 30 volunteers, including surgeons, anesthesiologists, nurses, an optometrist, and translators set up practice at a rural clinic and cared for patients from early morning to late evening. By week’s end the team had conducted about 120 operations, including 25 for children to correct crossed eyes.

Because the clinic is far from modern, the surgeons use equipment that is outdated by U.S. standards. Most often, the team physicians bring their own microscopes, surgical instruments and sterilization equipment.

Vision is especially valued in Central America, says Stern, noting that once a person becomes blind in the developing world, their life expectancy is only four years, primarily because of an increased likelihood of injury and/or death by accident, and the lack of a governmental safety net. While Costa Rica provides government-funded medical care, Stern says that in the Limon province where he worked there are only two surgical ophthalmologists to care for 300,000 people.

Poor nutrition and UV light contribute to early and often severe cataract formation, says Stern, medical director of the Connecticut Eye Bank. A cataract causes the eye’s lens to become cloudy and can lead to blindness. Corrective surgery replaces the damaged lens with an artificial one. Glaucoma, which affects the optic nerve, is marked by high pressure in the eye and can eventually lead to blindness. Surgery removes fluid build-up if eye drop treatment doesn’t work.

Admitting that the trips are “rather addictive,” Stern says, “I’m probably going to do this until I can’t do it anymore.”

Contact: Kimberly Gensicki, 860-224-5900, ext. 6507

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