Written by Shuhan Wang, MS4

Buenos dias from the Andean highlands of Ecuador! After more than 24 hours of traveling, our 2018 cataract surgical mission team has finally arrived in Riobamba, a city known locally as the “Sultan of the Andes”. Situated at 2758m above sea level, Riobamba rests in a valley surrounded by five snowcapped volcanos, the nearest one being Chimborazo, which is the highest mountain (6268m peak elevation) in Ecuador.

While enjoying a traditional Ecuadorian lunch complete with chugchucaras, our team learned about the healthcare system in Ecuador, the history and treatment of indigenous peoples, Liberal Revolution and the making of modern Ecuador, the founder and mission of our host organization Fibuspam, a wonderful humanitarian Marjorie Sablow who made possible this mission, and the inception and growth of A Promise to Peru. Perhaps the most memorable meeting for me today was with David Guacho, the executive director of the Fibuspam health clinic in Riobamba.

After David lost his infant son in an understaffed public rural hospital which rendered unsatisfactory care, as a result of an enormous backlog and a pervasive neglect of the indigenous populations, he is convinced that the people of his heritage deserve equal access to quality care so tragedies like his own could be avoided. Since then he has dedicated his life to bringing better healthcare services to his village and the mountain regions by recruiting help from well-trained and highly competent physicians across the country and the world. This is how today our surgical team ended up here in Riobamba to serve 100 carefully pre-screened patients who are in dire need of sight-saving surgeries. In Ecuador, the average price of a cataract surgery is $3000 per eye, but the typical earning of this population is merely $350 a month (and that is if they are healthy and hold a formal job). For many people, this truly is an opportunity of a lifetime! We learned that our patients will be coming from different provinces all over the country to receive care, some as far as requiring a 14-hour bus ride each way.

For the whole afternoon extending into the evening, our team unpacked 1000-lb of surgical supplies, set up our operating rooms for this week, made sure all equipments are up and running, and sterilized all instruments. Although clinic day does not officially start until tomorrow, some patients have already heard the news and showed up today for eye exams.

I met Andrés tonight after he patiently waited for us to set up our clinic. He is a very pleasant 60-year-old dressed in a neat wool poncho and straw hat who suffers from complete blindness in his left eye due to either herpes zoster ophthalmicus leading to corneal ulcer and perforation (with complete lack of light perception) or corneal melting secondary to long-standing rheumatoid arthritis. Andrés also suffers from severe cataract in his right eye, making him practically unable to see. Dr. Krebs, Dr. Sable’s great friend hailing from Michigan who joined our team in Fort Lauderdale, took a careful look under the slit lamp and to my delight concluded that cataract surgery of his right eye would be of great benefit to Andrés! We scheduled him right away for surgery on Friday. Andrés was elated to hear that something indeed can be done to help him see again! He jumped out of the chair and held each of our hands in tremendous gratitude. As much as I would love to savor our experience here in Riobamba, for a moment, Friday could not come soon enough…