By Emma Wells
Scheie Vision Summer 2018
“In many parts of the world, there is one ophthalmologist for a million patients. Many patients do not have access to an ophthalmologist or medical professional, while others do not have the means to be evaluated and treated. Today, 180 million people in the world suffer from blindness—but 80% of world blindness is avoidable. It's just a matter of getting adequate care and medical attention to them.” –Sonul Mehta, MD
Sonul Mehta, MD, an Assistant Professor of Ophthalmology and an oculoplastic and reconstructive surgeon, is passionate about providing medical care to underserved populations. At least once a year, she travels internationally to provide medical services to areas with limited access to eye care.
She has taken multiple trips to the Philippines, China, India, and various parts of Southeast Asia, as well as Ecuador, Guatemala, Panama, and other parts of South America.
During these service trips, Mehta is part of a team of surgeons, anesthesiologists, operating room nurses, and ophthalmic technicians. This group sets up a tent hospital, performing anywhere between 50 and 100 surgeries a day. “We try to provide as much medical care as possible in the short period of a week,” said Dr. Mehta. “The goal is to see, evaluate, and treat as many patients as we can.”
For more complex procedures, the team joins forces with local physicians and hospitals. “This gives an opportunity for local physicians to learn to treat these more complex conditions and to better understand how to treat them post-operatively, so they can then treat more of their population,” explained Dr. Mehta.
One of the greatest challenges when volunteering abroad is a lack of resources. “We bring as many supplies as we can, everything from sutures to donated glasses to instruments,” said Dr. Mehta. But access to imaging modalities and medications, such as antibiotics to prevent post-operative infection, remains limited.
Though challenges arise, Mehta views her international service as some of the most rewarding work she has done. “The patients continue to inspire me,” she said. “So many times, patients will wake up from surgery with the ability to see again after not seeing for 30-plus years, and the joy on their faces is so contagious. It’s truly a second chance at life.” Dr. Mehta plans to continue taking part in service throughout her career because of the joy and gratitude it summons. “Through each service trip, I’ve learned that improving the lives of those who need it most is like no other feeling you can imagine. You come back and you feel so grateful for what you have.”