SEE International is proud to congratulate Drs. Luis Arevalo Soto and Ximena Guzman de Arevalo for a successful surgical expedition to treat blindness in Chongwe, Zambia.
The Arevalos, a married couple, are ophthalmologists who live in El Salva-dor, and are part of international nonprofit SEE International, which seeks to eradicate preventable blindness worldwide. The Arevalos are passionate about volunteering and using their medical skills to change lives for the better.
“For an ophthalmologist, few things are as rewarding as re-storing sight,” Ximena said.
Luis, who specializes in cataract removal, augmented his expertise at one of SEE’s training seminars, and during that time he and his wife began to plan a medical expedition. With coordinating help from Dr. Kris Bjorgen, Ed.D, and Caring Hearts Pediatrics, both of Hartsville, S.C., SEE provided the technology, supplies and communications necessary for an expedition to Chongwe.
Zambia is one of the poorest countries in southern Africa, with three-quarters of its population living below the World Bank poverty threshold of $1 a day. According to the Ministry of Health, an estimated 150,000 Zambians are blind, with cataracts accounting for half of these cases.
Approximately 80 percent of blindness cases in Zambia are caused by preventable or treatable conditions. Moreover, along with the human cost, blindness takes a tremendous economic toll on the already impoverished country, with an estimated total annual loss of $56 million. Unfortunately, access to eye care is extremely low for most Zambians, with only 15 ophthalmologists to serve the entire country of more than 14 million.
It is for these reasons that volunteer medical professionals, like the Arevalos, are critically needed. Although the hospital staff in Chongwe was eager to help, they were inexperienced in performing cataract removal surgeries. The hospital lacked necessary equipment, and blackouts were common. Luckily, the supplies and technology provided by SEE proved adequate for the clinic; in total, the team screened almost 200 people, and performed sight-restoring surgeries on 29 individuals.
Luis Arevalo says that seeing a person’s smile after he removes their eye patch is “the most beautiful thing … that moment when they discover they are able to see again is sublime.”
One man was so elated that he began to jump and clap, shouting, “Thank you! Thank you!” Some of the patients, in their desperation to see again, had sought treatment from witch doctors; one woman had been given six mystical tattoos above each eye, in an unsuccessful attempt to treat her cataracts. Luckily, the Arevalos’ volunteer efforts and expertise succeeded where folk remedies failed — to date, all 29 surgical patients can see. SEE International’s positive impact does not end with their patients, either.
“When you restore sight to 29 people, you impact 29 families and sometimes even whole communities,” Luis said.
People who might have not been able to work due to their blindness can now provide for their families. Children who were blind, or had to stay home to care for a blind elder, can now go to school. Communities that were deprived of their services, whether they be a farmer, teacher, driver or something else, can now benefit from their labor.
Overall, the Arevalos feel that the clinic was a great success, and look forward to future SEE trips to Chongwe. They fully recommend SEE International to eye doctors who wish to volunteer, as well.
“We are blessed to bless others,” Ximena said. “Sometimes you may wish for an angel to come and solve your problems. Well, we all have the chance to be that angel for someone else.”
— Stephen Bunnell is a communications coordinator for SEE International.