One Woman's Story: Eye Surgery at Hospitalito Atitlán Restores Sight of Guatemalan Woman Blind for Seven Years

Santiago Atitlán, May 2012 - Starting in late April through May, a team of ophthalmologists performed 26 eye surgeries during an eye journada (journey) sponsored by the International Eye Institute at Hospitalito Atitlán, a small private nonprofit hospital serving 75,000 Maya on the southern shore of Lake Atitlán, Guatemala. One woman, 82-year-old Concepción, had been blind for seven years. Her story is culled from the journal of Dr. David Dance, who performed her surgery.

There are times when, as a surgeon, I feel heaven's hand assisting in achieving a successful surgical outcome. Concepción's surgical outcome was one of these miracles.

The Case

Concepción arrived at Hospitalito Atitlán with her son and two daughters. She had been blind in both eyes for seven years forcing her to be completely dependent on her family. When Dr. Dance examined her, he knew it would be a particularly challenging case - she had a hypermature white cataract, narrow anterior chamber and small pupil in each eye. When asked by Concepción's son if the eye team could help his mother, Dr. Dance gave him a guarded prognosis, because he knew the surgery would be difficult.

I don't know why she waited this long for surgery, but I was humbled that they chose to have faith in our team to perform her cataract surgery.

The Surgery

Dr. Dance realized early in the surgery that Concepción had no zonular support for her lens, so it would be difficult getting it out, running the risk of losing it to the back of the eye. At minimum, he was sure that if the team got the lens out, vitreous (the gelatinous mass between the lens and retina lining) would be lost. But the team was able to remove the lens without vitreous loss.

The Outcome

When Dr. Dance removed Concepción's eye patch the next morning, the first thing she saw and recognized was her son's face. The son embraced the surgeon, embracing and holding him for a long time, crying tears of joy and gratitude.

As I stood there, I was overcome with gratitude for the opportunity to be part of that special moment for this family.

At first, Dr. Dance was uneasy being the recipient of such unrestrained appreciation. But, then, he felt the "sacredness" in the moment, which caused him to reflect. As the tears of Concepción's son ran down the surgeon's neck...

I, too, was overcome with gratitude - for the opportunity and ability to serve, for the hospital's invitation, for the International Eye Institute for inviting me to be part of the team, for the Hospitalito and it's donors and directors, for the nurses and assistants, and for my wife and children's support.

Concepción's seven years living with preventable blindness was too long, but she now has the gift of sight for the rest of her life.

To participate in the recovery of her sight was truly a singular experience. - Dr. David Dance