Thursday, July 25, 2024

Essentia Health team brings eye care to Dominican Republic

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In late April, a team from Essentia Health-Ada traveled to the Dominican Republic with Haiti Eye mission to help provide life-changing eye care.

The trip was organized by Haiti Eye Mission, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, whose mission is to cure and prevent blindness. Created by Dr. Lance Bergstrom, who has performed outreach to the Ada community for over 20 years, Haiti Eye Mission provides annual eye screenings, eyeglasses and sunglasses, cataract and glaucoma surgeries and medical treatment of eye diseases to Pignon, Haiti.

Current violence and political unrest prevented safe travel to Pignon, but thanks to a provider connection, an ophthalmologist in Santo Domingo quickly welcomed the team into her clinic.

Essentia’s Angela Skyberg, Cindy Stene and Julie Dinius joined 15 other surgeons and staff from across the United States and neighboring Haiti. The group performed between 130-140 procedures at a local clinic in the capital city of Santo Domingo in a single week.

Stene, a licensed practical nurse, oversaw the operating room and Skyberg, a physician assistant, was involved in surgical preop.

“Most of the surgeries were for cataracts or to help decrease the pressure from glaucoma,” explained Skyberg. “There were a few brow lifts, and we also had a successful cornea transplant.”

A cataract is a cloudy or thick area over the lens of the eye while glaucoma is a group of eye conditions that damage the optic nerve. Both conditions can cause significant visual impairment — even blindness — if left untreated. Both are very prevalent on the island.

“The area has a very large amount of undiagnosed hypertensive patients,” added Skyberg. “That itself can lead to eye problems, but it’s also related to their ethnic background and exposure to viruses that, with vaccines, are preventable. All this combined can cause long-term effects for their eyes.”

Dinius, a human resources service center representative, performed community outreach in the surrounding underserved areas, which included conducting eye exams and identifying those who might require surgery.

The group remains hopeful that they will resume their work in Haiti in addition to Santo Domingo.

“Usually, the only care received in Pignon is when we go,” explained Stene. “It was sad when we couldn’t go this year because of the younger kids that have received glaucoma drops previously. They could go blind in this next year when we’re not there just because they don’t have drops and they have no means of getting them.”

woman and nurse filling out paperwork for patient

“Every year, there is an unveiling, usually the day after people have their surgery,” said Dinius. “People can see — some who haven’t been able to, sometimes for decades. They are seeing family members that they haven’t seen or been able to see most of their life.”

“Many sing and dance and are very excited,” added Stene. “There’s a lot of hugging. They’re just so thankful.”

This year was Dinius’ eighth medical mission and Stene’s seventh with Haiti Eye Mission.

“Initially, I went out of curiosity,” explained Dinius. “I cannot imagine not going. It’s hard to say no because it’s just amazing what a group of people can do for those who don’t have any way of getting that kind of care. It’s incredibly rewarding.”

Like Dinius, Stene went once but was quickly hooked.

“I’ll go until I can’t,” she said.

While Skyberg is the newest to the group, with one mission under her belt, she plans on joining her colleagues again next year.

“I’ve always been interested in doing a medical mission and wanted to give it a try,” she explained. “I wanted to give back and put my skills into practice. To be able to bring our skill sets, whatever that might be, forward and put it into good use to help people that are in need — it’s life-changing.”

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