In February/March 2013 I was happy to go with an Orange, CA–based medical team, Arpan Global Charities, to care for the poor near Quito, Ecuador, on Mission Suyay (hope).
Eye care was just the beginning. Plastic, orthopedic, pediatric, gynecologic and cardiothoracic surgeons, anesthesiologists, a geneticist, radiologist, pharmacist, nephrologist, cardiologist, dentist, residents, nurses, echo technologist, social worker, and even the CEO from St. Joseph Hospital in Orange and his wife all paid their own way to make the mission. The 52-member team saw 1,500 patients, primarily mestizo, Shuar, Quichua and Huaorani Indians.
I saw a steady stream of medically underserved patients. They sought and received treatment for pterygium, cataracts, macular degeneration, dense corneal opacity and eye infections. Sadly, I also diagnosed but did not have the necessary resources for a surgical intervention on a one-year-old boy named Jeremia. All I could do was advise his parents on the urgency of going to Quito for removal of the eye and follow-up care for his retinoblastoma (a rare and aggressive cancer that begins in the retina of the eye).
Although this was the first humanitarian mission for many on our team, it was my 28th in needy countries around the world. Ecuador is one of the safer areas I have visited, so after finishing our clinic time, I didn’t hesitate to join the group on a sight-seeing trip. Plastic surgeon Daniel Jaffurs, M.D., Ph.D., accurately recounted this harrowing post-surgical moment:
“At the end of the trip, the plan was to take a bus to the local volcano, Cotopaxi. The elevation was about 14,000 feet and we were all told to drink a copious amount of water. The bus ride was very long and during one of the stops, the bus driver told us we shouldn’t use the facilities there but wait until further on. Further on was a really long time for a group of people who drank a lot of water and at the end, the facilities were a few hundred yards away up the volcano. There was hail and a 30+ mile-per-hour wind. Everyone ran off the bus. The men ran to the edge of the cliff and let fly. The women all went around the side of the bus and had to have help so they weren’t blown away. I would say we were a much tighter bonded group when we got back on the bus.”
Regardless of that hiccup, the team found great joy in the “helps” given on the global mission. They brought back life-changing insights into what medical resources can do to help the vulnerable and downtrodden escape poverty.
In my new book, Hope in Sight, I lend my eyes to readers on 27 medical missions over the past three decades. I invite those of you supporting or interested in medical mission work to read about actual accounts. The world needs you!
Aisha Simjee, MD, is a beloved and highly respected in the Southern California medical community as a board-certified, fellowship-trained and compassionate ophthalmologist. She has received considerable recognition for her charitable work locally and globally. She is the author of Hope in Sight: One Doctor’s Quest to Restore Eyesight and Dignity to the World’s Poor.