By Julie Blakely (Madigan Healthcare System)May 19, 2010
TACOMA, Wash. -- Since 2004, ophthalmology providers from Madigan Healthcare System have been traveling on a medical readiness mission to improve the vision of Honduras' impoverished population, and this year, the ophthalmology team broke their own record - 288 eye surgeries in nine days.
Lt. Col. (Dr.) John Thordsen, a Madigan ophthalmologist, has been leading the mission to Choluteca, Honduras, the fifth-largest city in Honduras, since 2009. Thordsen describes the trip, sponsored by the U.S. Army Medical Command, as hugely successful.
"We do the most patient screenings and most eye surgeries of any other medical readiness mission in Central America," Thordsen said. "Madigan is becoming one of the leaders in Army eye surgical missions."
Thordsen and his team consider themselves the only ophthalmologists for the Southern region of Honduras, an agriculture-driven country that is the second poorest in Central America behind Nicaragua. Careinternational.org asserts that 15 percent of Honduras' population lives on less than $1 per day.
"There is only one ophthalmologist in that region that has his own private practice, so if you are poor, you won't be able to afford eye surgery," Thordsen said. "That's why we make this annual trip."
During the first week of the mission, Thordsen's team screened 928 people to determine which patients most needed help. Then they set up their operating rooms and other equipment over the weekend, in order to begin performing surgeries the following Monday. This year, the team saw an increase in pediatric and elderly patients. "We drastically change people's lives there. We open the world to them," Thordsen said. "They receive us with open arms and treat us very warmly. We are literally part of their community."
The team also saw an increase in cataract surgeries due to a new procedure that doesn't require stitches. Thordsen said that the surgery, called self-sealing extra-capsular extraction, is not any more expensive than traditional cataract surgery, is less traumatic to the eye and can be completed faster, allowing more patients to benefit from the surgery.
"It provides just as good visual results in the long-term as standard cataract surgery," Thordsen said, who is showing the technique to other Army ophthalmologists.
Another mission is planned this year for the Dominican Republic, and Thordsen is confident that trip will go as well as the mission to Choluteca, if not better. "We have some great support from our command team, our nursing staff and our surgical ward techs," Thordsen said.
The team from Madigan included Col. (Dr.) Darryl Ainbinder, Thordsen, Maj. (Dr.) Daniel Wenzell, Capt. Sean Calder, Capt. Jesus Chavez, Capt. Amy Schrandt, Sgt. Arian Marfil, Spc. Shawn Opoien, Spc. Christopher Wade and David Joss. Dr. Keith Dahlhauser, who was assigned to Madigan while on active duty and is now a civilian provider in Tacoma, also made the trip, which he volunteers for each year.