From head to toe she was quite a sight. A woolen scarf, woven in a spectrum of bright patterns, was wrapped so tight and expertly around her head it seemed a part of her anatomy. Layers of chemises and skirts worn one over the other—possibly every piece of clothing she owned—belied her emaciated frame. She was shoeless. Her feet were horribly misshapen, calloused, and caked with dirt and mud. Her name is lost from memory. Her story is unforgettable.
She stood in a room with hundreds of her fellow Hondurans, all who had come to the Vision Health International clinic in La Esperanza. Some had traveled for many miles, even days, on foot knowing that this may be their last hope to ever see again. A penlight was shown at the woman's motionless and clouded eyes. “Puede ver la luz, senora?” she was asked. Nothing. Not a shake of her head, not a word of recognition. The cataracts and her blindness were easily diagnosed, but this woman was possibly deaf and mute as well. She remained unresponsive and expressionless during her vision screening, several pre-op exams, and even as she was prepared for surgery the following day.
She returned to the clinic once more for her post-operative exam, dressed again as she had been the day before and the day before that. She was led to a chair and seated next to the other post-op patients. Her face was, as before, without expression; she did not say a word. That is, until the patch on her repaired eye was removed, and as though struck by a bolt from the blue, she unleashed a torrent of words and a flurry of gestures over the room of stunned and suddenly silent surgeons, nurses, and volunteers. She was not deaf or mute at all. So immobilized with fright and anxiety, communication had been all but impossible for her. Now, with sight restored and fears banished, her faculties—and an obvious gift for gab—returned. She slowed for a moment looked at her cataract surgeon and “doctora,” Doctora Melinda. Her eyes glistening with emotion and bright with gratitude, she said (in Spanish, of course), “why would someone like you come all that way to help a little old lady like me?” Why, indeed. With each eye exam, with every pair of eyeglasses, and with every sight-restoring surgery, the dedicated volunteers from Vision Health International offer a heartfelt response to this grateful woman's tearful inquiry. We say, “It is always better to help light just one candle than to forever curse the darkness.” For the millions who suffer from treatable blindness in Latin America , there is so much more work to do.
Dr. Melinda O'Rourke, and her husband, Paul, vice-president of VHI, have volunteered on numerous VHI ophthalmology trips to Latin America since 1999. There will be many trips to come. Since 1985 VHI has provided—free of charge—15,087 eye exams, 13,080 pairs of eyeglasses, and 3,468 sight-restoring surgeries in seven countries. A portion of the profits from the Northwest Eye Center and Essence Laser & Wellness are donated to Vision Health International. Thank you for making our work possible!
For more information ask Dr. O'Rourke or contact: