BATTLING BLINDNESS PROJECT

 In 2013, Izote created the first-ever eye surgery unit in El Salvador providing free operations focusing on cataracts. Untreated cataracts are a pervasive problem in El Salvador due to the intense sunlight throughout the year and eye injuries arising from accidents while working outdoors. Few alternatives exist for those who cannot pay for surgery. Most people do not receive treatment and live with debilitating cataracts causing partial or total vision loss.

Izote's mission is to create sustainable change. Therefore, our first priority was to make a connection with a local ophthalmologist with whom to team up. Through the efforts of board member Juan Jose Urias we were introduced to Dr. Rafael Lopez Bermudez in 2011. Recently hired by the San Pedro National Hospital in the department of Usulutan, Dr. Lopez was the first ophthalmologist on the staff.

It was kismet. Izote wanted to create an ongoing eye surgery unit while Dr. Lopez was frustrated by the lack of equipment needed to perform cataract surgery and in-depth eye exams. Izote set about raising the funds to move the project forward. We were able to purchase an ophthalmic microscope costing thousands of dollars. The ophthalmic microscope is the cornerstone of eye surgery, enabling the doctor to visualize and operate on the eye. Along with other needed surgical instruments, the microscope was shipped to the public hospital in Usulutan and a burgeoning ophthalmology unit was established.

That summer the hospital administrator invited Izote to see what was being accomplished. Also the backlog of patients applying for free cataract surgery at the new unit was overwhelming and Dr. Lopez asked us to help him. In 2013 and again in 2014 we rolled up our sleeves and the Izote board set about creating our own surgical missions headed by ophthalmologist board member Dr. Robert Appel. During the 4-day missions Doctors Lopez and Appel worked side by side providing cataract surgery to dozens of people, many of whom had been waiting for over ten years for the operation.

Other Izote board members, who participated at their own expense, took part in the missions. It was a wonderful opportunity for Izote and the people benefitting from our project to meet one another. Juan Jose Urias and his wife Elizabeth Urias greeted the patients on behalf of Izote and then several patients were interviewed and shared their life stories with Risa Procton while waiting for surgery.  Lauren Meyer a psychologist conducted relaxation exercises for the patients pre-operatively.  Izote's vice president Louise Cooper served as scrub nurse for Dr. Appel. The patients and families expressed their gratitude to us and to all the supporters of Izote.

After the missions Izote went on to improve the quality of ophthalmology care at the hospital. We sent equipment that allowed for thorough eye examinations with which to make differential diagnoses. For two years Izote paid the salaries of two nurses trained by Dr. Lopez to assist him. As a result, the eye surgeries were more efficient and safer. The hospital administration successfully petitioned the Ministry of Health to add the nurses to the permanent staff.

In 2015 Izote funded the refurbishing of an operating and recovery room to create an out-patient surgical unit for eye surgeries as well as other out-patient surgical procedures. We also purchased vital sign monitors for the new unit. An out-patient surgical unit greatly lowers the risk of hospital-acquired infections. A plaque thanking Izote for our partnership with the hospital graces the entrance to the unit.

Thanks to our efforts to date over 300 people have had their eyesight restored. With your support we can expand the reach of our sight-restoring project.