Ophthalmology Mission to Haiti Saves Sight for Hundreds

Dr. Leslie Jones, associate professor of Ophthalmology at Howard University College of Medicine and director of the Residency Program and of Glaucoma Services for the Department of Ophthalmology at Howard University Hospital, examines a patient. This year was Jones' 13 year with the mission.

A team of ophthalmologists and a clinical assistant perform one of the more than 100 cataract and plastic surgeries they completed on patients, in many cases restoring sight that had been blocked.

WASHINGTON – When Ninita Brown, 35, returned home to Washington from her weeklong “vacation” on the Caribbean island of Hispaniola early last Sunday morning, she was bone tired, but happy.

Dr. Ninita Brown, a resident in the Department of Ophthalmology at Howard University Hospital, had spent the last seven days with four practicing physicians and other clinicians performing hundreds of eye surgeries and treating eye ailments to over 700 people in the impoverished community of Lascahobas, a small rural town in the central plateau of Haiti.

“It was an excellent experience,” Brown said.  “I’m exhausted, but I feel great.”

Brown, originally from Los Angeles, was under the supervision of Dr. Leslie Jones, associate professor of Ophthalmology at Howard University College of Medicine and director of the Residency Program and of Glaucoma Services for the Department of Ophthalmology at Howard University Hospital.

They both teamed with Drs. Douglas Laurence, Hon Vu Q Duong, and Kenneth Westfield  of Westfield Eye Center, Las Vegas, Nev., ophthalmologists, to coordinate this year’s annual eye mission.

They were all part of Friends of the Children of Lascahobas, Haiti, an organization dedicated to improving the lives of the children of Lascahobas. Estelle Dubuisson, who moved from Haiti to New York, started the organization more than 30 years ago by collecting one dollar each from some of the employees in the Laboratory Service at the Veterans Administration Hospital in the Bronx.

As time went on, she organized dances, bus rides, and raffles to raise money for nutrition and school supplies for the children. Since 1982, FCLH has taken a medical team to Lascahobas annually to provide vision care and ophthalmic surgery.

Brown said she and the other physicians performed more than 70 cataract surgeries.

“In some cases, the people could only see light perception because of the cataracts,” Brown said, “but after the surgery, their vision was exceptional.”

They also performed plastic surgery by removing lesions and growths on the surface of the eye and eyelids, she said.

“One lady couldn’t close her eye because of a growth in it, and then we removed the growth and she was fine,” Brown said.

Jones said beside the cataracts, they treated numerous cases of advanced glaucoma using the drugs donated by various pharmaceutical companies and gave away more than 500 pairs of eyeglasses.

Jones has been participating in the program annually since 1999.

“There’s a tremendous need,” she said, “and they don’t have a system of care that is able to take care of all of the people.”

Jones pointed out that it was Dr. Roger Mason, then a glaucoma specialist at Howard University Hospital, who discovered an increased propensity of people of African descent in the Caribbean to develop glaucoma, and that is certainly true in Lascahobas.

Jones noted that taking physicians like Brown to places like Haiti is part of the mission of the hospital and medical school.

“We exist to train and educate the doctors of the future, and we don’t just do it in D.C. or the U.S.,” she said.  “We train people from all over the world, Haiti, Africa, wherever, to meet the needs of people from all over the world.”

For more about the vision mission, visit http://www.fclh.org/

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