This year ORBIS is celebrating 30 years of saving sight worldwide. March 1, 1982 is when ORBIS took flight for its first medical training program.
Blog and Photos Submitted by Geoff Oliver Bugbee
Geoff Oliver Bugbee is Visual Communications Consultant at ORBIS. He has worked in documentary and international development photography for over 15 years.
In Iloilo, Philippines, American NBA basketball is widely broadcast on many of the local television stations. More than a few of the star players on the screen are role models for Filipino kids. Rafael Lopez, age 7, dreams of playing basketball with his classmates. But until now, he’s been excluded from the game because he couldn’t see.
At six months of age, Rafael’s mother, Narry Angelie Lopez, age 33, noticed that her son’s right eye was misaligned in an upward direction, and that he often tilted his head to a severe degree to compensate for the malady. Doctors told her to wait to see if the condition corrected itself, but over time she monitored Rafael’s eye and noticed it wasn’t showing improvement.
“As Rafael has been growing up, I have noticed there has been an issue with his speech and his understanding, his development is kind of delayed,” said Narry. “In fact, he only began to talk in a significant manner when he reached 5 years old.”
A friend told her that perhaps the reason Rafael was delayed in his language and speech was due to the tilt of his head. Rafael’s condition, strabismus, was first diagnosed by medical students from West Visayas State University who were conducting research on children with debilitating eye conditions in his elementary school in 2011.
He was referred to Western Visayas Medical Center (WVMC), ORBIS’s partner for the three-week ORBIS International and FedEX-sponsored Flying Eye Hospital (FEH) high-level skills exchange program. On February 20, 2012, the first day of screening for the FEH program, Rafael was chosen as a surgical teaching case by ORBIS volunteer faculty member Dr. Gillian Adams, a Consultant Ophthalmic Surgeon at Moorfields Eye Hospital in London.
Dr. Adams knew that the reason Rafael turned his head to one side was because he would see double vision otherwise. As they sat on a bench at screening day, Dr. Adams noticed that his mother placed a wet cloth inside of his t-shirt to ease the neck pain he was experiencing as a result of his chronic head tilt.
“I saw that this child was going to have secondary effects from the permanent twist of his spine,” said Dr. Adams. “During the post-ops this morning, his head was much straighter and he looked a lot more comfortable. Because of the surgery, he’s actually going to get two benefits: he’s going to get rid of his double vision and by holding his head straight, he’s not going to create damage to his neck vertebrae,” she said. “This child had a vertical squint and it’s a procedure that is not commonly taught to people here,” said Dr. Adams.
Dr. Adams worked side-by-side in the operating room on board the ORBIS Flying Eye Hospital with WVMC’s Dr. Nathaniel Chan, her immediate trainee.
“Dr. Chan knew what the operation should be, but had never done it before. We took Dr. Chan step-by-step through the procedure, so that he can not only perform the procedure himself, but now has the knowledge to train other doctors. It’s the ripple effect of giving one person knowledge and them passing it on,” Dr. Adams said.
During the post-operative check-up at WVMC the following day, Narry was thrilled with the results of her son’s surgery. “On the evening of Rafael’s surgery, his grandmother was overjoyed to hear him say a complete sentence without stuttering,” she said.
And thanks to the surgery, she’s confident Rafael will be out on the basketball court in no time.