Grand Junction specialists perform eye surgeries in Peru
A person seeing for the first time in years a day after his cataracts are removed.
Parents thankful after their baby’s misaligned eyes are fixed.
A child seeing properly for the first time after being fitted with her first pair of glasses.
Local ophthalmologists Deborah Lenahan of Pediatric Eyecare of Western Colorado, 3150 N. 12th St., and Randy Rottman of Rottman Eye Care, 1190 Bookcliff Ave., have witnessed scenes like these repeatedly after numerous trips to provide eye care and surgeries to poor, rural residents in Peru.
Rottman began taking trips to places such as Peru more than 20 years ago with Vision Health International, an organization that brings eye care and surgery professionals to Third World countries. In June, he returned to Peru for the “seventh or eighth” consecutive year to fit children with glasses and offer various eye surgeries to adults.
“I enjoy traveling, and once you do one of these trips, you get hooked,” Rottman said. “It’s the essence of medicine. By going down there you can really change someone’s life.”
This was the fifth year he has taken Lenahan with him to Peru to perform pediatric eye surgeries, mostly on infants, children and teens with misaligned eyes or childhood cataracts.
“Especially in the area where I’m working, babies who are born blind die,” she said. “We can go down there and get a lot accomplished.”
Rottman works on 100 to 150 surgeries each time he’s in Peru for the eight- or nine-day trips, and Lenahan finished 60 surgeries this year, 20 more surgeries than she usually gets to do. She also taught techniques to some Peruvian ophthalmologists, and Rottman, for the first time, traveled with some Peace Corps volunteers to small villages in the area and fit 800 people with glasses.
Lenahan’s colleague at Pediatric Eyecare of Western Colorado, Certified Ophthalmic Technician Sandra Carpenter, also went on this year’s trip, as did anesthesiologist Kevin Keller of Anesthesia Consultants of Western Colorado, 1120 Wellington Ave., No. 206, and nurse Jennifer Scholl and surgical technician Christine Magnuson, both of Grand Valley Surgical Center, 710 Wellington Ave., No. 21.
The team ran into some hiccups, including having some of their duffle bags, which were filled with equipment, stuck in customs for five days. But Lenahan said what keeps her going is knowing she is helping kids who would otherwise not get help or would have to shell out cash they may not have to travel to Peru’s capital, Lima.
Ophthalmologists in Peru screen locals for eye problems year-round and save up the cases they do not have the means or knowledge to solve for Vision Health International volunteer professionals. Finding supplies and the proper equipment can sometimes be a challenge, Rottman said. But the reward of helping someone who would otherwise continue to have vision problems outweighs any inconvenience.
“You get very good at problem-solving and trouble-shooting. You come up with creative solutions. That’s some of the attraction in going. In the United States, you have so much for every eventuality,” Rottman said.
Lenahan said she always has been attracted to mission work and approached Rottman about going on a Vision Health International trip when she came to a point in her life when she had the time to go. She went to Nicaragua in 2005 and has been going to Peru every year since 2006.
The kids she has treated are always grateful, and one in particular sticks out for Lenahan, a beautiful teen girl who underwent eye surgery a few years ago.
“The next year I went back, and she waited two or three hours to see me. She was all dressed up and had gifts to thank me,” Lenahan said.