Blog submitted by Dr Jonathan Song
Jonathan Song is the director of the Cornea
Institute at The Vision
Hospital Los Angeles
and an assistant professor of ophthalmology at Doheny Eye Institute
in Los Angeles, CA.
My week began with a long trip from Los Angeles with connections from Paris to Damascus. Damascus is a vibrant modern city with a fantastic history. It is here I met up with other ORBIS volunteer faculty as well as Perry Athanason, communications manager aboard the plane, who would escort us to Dier Ezzor. Our drive thru the Syrian dessert to Deir Ezzor was unforgettable. We passed thru Palmyra, the home of ancient ruins which were beautifully excavated with amazing details allowing for a person to experience what could have been thousands of years ago.
On our arrival in Deir Ezzor, we where met by the whole hard working ORBIS staff group who have been preparing the hospital as well as the airplane for screening and surgery which is no small feat at all. As usual, the tremendous and meticulous preparation was evident during our screening day. The day was hampered by an overrun of people seeking eye care who only recently heard of the groups presences. This was in addition of the pre screened patients who already had been assigned screening appointments. The professionalism and hard work of the ORBIS staff as well as local hospital staff members allowed us to screen all and fill all allotted surgery spots. We saw amazing eye pathology; more importantly, it was a privilege and honor to meet the people of Syria who now became our patients.
My next days in Syria were divided into lecturing and performing surgery in the ORBIS Flying Eye Hospital as well as performing surgery at the host hospital. I had energetic hands-on trainees who clearly wanted to learn as much as possible about corneal transp lantation surgery. It is my hope that these trainees continue doing corneal transplantation surgery and aid in the deployment of an eye banking system in Syria.
Our nights in Deir Ezzor were spent enjoying the local food with the mixed grill being my favorite and visiting the downtown area with an open bazaar that showed the vibrancy and uniqueness of the Syrian culture. We even survived a sand storm in which we could not see more than five feet in front of us while in a local taxi.
As I think back on this trip and recall what has touched me the most, I remember the people and children of Syria the most. Both the patients as well as the local hospital staff showed their sincere gratitude to the work being done in this program. It is through organizations such as ORBIS that we realize that despite cultural and political differences, all people have more similar than not. All have a commitment to help their neighbors in a time of need whether it is a person in need in the local hospital or a person half way across the globe.
Photos by Perry Athanason