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A Compassionate Vision

Jan 11, 2017, 13:40 PM by Adele Menichella
A Compassionate Vision
When ophthalmologist Douglas Katsev, MD, flew to Kenya in June of this year, he spent three days and $20,000 to get there. As a member of a team of medical volunteers with SEE International, Dr. Katsev not only raised funds to support the non-profit oganization’s effort to bring much needed eye care to impoverished people in the vicinity of Marindi, he also paid his own and his family’s travel expenses.

A veteran “Doc volunteer” who has gone on numerous SEE International expeditions since his first trip to Honduras in 1987, Dr. Katsev brought with him specialized tools to perform the high tech cataract surgery he’s known for, called phacoemulsification.

“Phaco,” says Dr. Katsev, “reduces the amount of time it takes to remove cataracts by more than fifty percent. That becomes very important when treating upwards of 25 patients per day.”

Unfortunately, on this trip, neither Dr. Katsev’s luggage nor his surgical tools ever arrived. Undaunted, he improvised with the medical equipment on hand at the temporary clinic, which was set up by Kenya Relief at an orphanage. “I just did the surgeries the way I used to before the technology changed,” he says, referring to the small incision technique he employed.

Over a period of five days, Dr. Katsev and the other medical volunteers from SEE International examined and treated more than 1,000 patients, most of whom were bilaterally blind.

“Many patients walked two days’ journey with their families to get to the clinic,” says Dr. Katsev. He adds, “Most were elders who’d done strenuous physical work their whole lives. Some patients were young goat or sheep-herders who couldn’t farm once they went blind.” In rural Kenya, people without cash use sheep and goats to trade for goods and services. “These farmers were eager to get the surgery to restore their vision so they would no longer be a burden on their families,” says Dr. Katsev.

Three trained surgical assistants from Nairobi helped with the medical procedures and follow-up care. Dr. Katsev’s wife, Nina, and daughters Cailyn and Kiki, all optometrists, “worked pre-op,” according to Dr. Katsev, and his son, Blake, a student at San Marcos High School, “assisted the anesthesiologist.”

After serving twelve-hour days in the clinic, the volunteers slept in the orphanage, “on beds with mosquito nets,” says Dr. Katsev. Prior to traveling, he and his family met with Dr. Mary-Louise Scully, Sansum Clinic’s Travel and Tropical Medicine specialist, for a series of vaccinations to prevent them contracting rampant third world maladies such as hepatitis, malaria, meningitis, rabies, and typhoid.

In the Marindi clinic, Dr. Katsev embraced the arduous schedule with enthusiasm and took the inconvenience of his missing bags in stride. “I wore scrubs the whole trip,” says Dr. Katsev, adding, “My luggage was waiting for me when we returned to the States.”

Asked to name the best part of his experience in Kenya, Dr. Katsev answers without hesitation, “Having my family all together, and experiencing the joy of people seeing their grandkids for the first time.”

Dr. Doug Katsev is a board-certified ophthalmologist trained in corneal refractive surgery at the prestigious Jules Stein Institute at UCLA.