While most of us don't think twice about our ability to see the world around us, many lack even the basic access to eyeglasses.
FOR THE RECORD:
An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated Dr. Ahsan Khan was the president of Humanity First USA.
According to the World Health Organization, 20 million are blind because of cataracts, 90% of which are people in developing countries.
Dr. Ahsan Khan, a Kaiser ophthalmologist in Irvine and Yorba Linda, has seen the need first-hand in countries such as Guatemala, where he has been performing pro bono cataract surgery since 2010.
Khan is the director of Humanity First USA's Gift of Sight program, which opens eye camps in small villages in Guatemala and performs surgery, treats glaucoma and gives eyeglasses to people in need.
On Saturday, he ran the Kaiser Permanente Southern California Half Marathon in Irvine for the nonprofit, hoping to raise funds and awareness about the cause. He liked the idea because it combined both his passions — volunteer work and running.
By the end of the race, Khan had raised more than $1,300 for the nonprofit.
"I gave the gift of sight to 13 people by running this race," he said, pointing out that a cataract surgery costs about $100.
The fundraising isn't over. A play on perfect sight, Khan hopes to raise $2,020 and is keeping the fundraising web page open for a couple more months.
The money raised goes directly to the resources needed for Khan's medical camps.
Khan's first experience with the lack of access to eye care worldwide was while he was a resident at Loyola University in Chicago. During his residency in 2004, he traveled to Pakistan and observed the enormous impact doctors could have on the region.
"When you can help out in some way, it validates the whole reason for going into medicine," he said. "When I did that trip I realized that's what I wanted to do in my career."
In 2010 he was approached by a colleague that was involved with Humanity First. His friend had traveled to Guatemala and saw a need for eye surgery and reached out to Khan. Humanity First's American chapter didn't have eye camps at the time and had never sent a team of doctors to perform eye surgeries.
Khan dove into the project head first, going to Guatemala in May 2010 to assess the infrastructure. He came back and gathered necessary funds, getting donations from large healthcare companies such as Abbott Laboratories, Alcon and Bausch + Lomb. He set up the first eye camp in September in San Juan Sacatepéquez, bringing along a team that included his Kaiser scrub tech Juan Núñez, who he says he couldn't do the camp without.
The group went back to Chichicastenango in October with more resources — bringing on optometrists, an anesthesiologist and 1,000 eyeglasses donated by the Chicago Lion's Club. The doctors were able to perform around 30 cataract surgeries each trip and treated hundreds of patients.
Not only is treatment a priority, but Khan finds it pivotal to the cause that they teach the local doctors how to run the camps, use equipment and properly treat patients. They've successfully established relationships with doctors and nurses there so the patients can have proper follow-up treatment, which is crucial after surgery.
Prior to their stay in Guatemala, the local medical residents go to Mayan Indian villages, churches and advertise in newspapers, telling them of the medical team on its way.
The majority of the patients are Mayan, Khan said, and have virtually no access to healthcare.
"We had so many people from local villages that were basically blind and all they needed were a pair of glasses," he said. "They've walked around 10 or 20 years and didn't know that's all they needed. You give them a pair of glasses and they can see things they never thought they could see."
The impact is enormous on the patients, but Khan said he believes his team walks away with a much larger gift.
"At the end of the day it is what we get out of it. It changes your perspective," he said. "It makes you more grounded and makes you appreciate that you have eyesight and access to medical care, but above all that, that you are able to do this for people."
Khan is planning a trip for October and is hoping to bring along residents from his old program at Loyola University in Chicago.
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