Kennewick Ophthalmologist Restores Sign in Ethiopia - NBC Right Now/KNDO/KNDU Tri-Cities, Yakima, WA |

Kennewick Ophthalmologist Restores Sign in Ethiopia

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KENNEWICK, Wash. -- Imagine being in your 40's and 50's and being completely blind. It's the sad reality for thousands of people living in Ethiopia. And that sad reality is why one Kennewick ophthalmologist decided to give hundreds of people living there, the gift of sight.

Dr. James Guzek has traveled the world, working in Sri Lanka and Ghana before taking a job at Pacific Cataract and Laser Institute in Kennewick 11 years ago. Five years ago on a trip to Ethiopia, he was astonished at just how many people there were blind due to cataracts "1.6% of the population is blind, and 60% of that is blind from cataracts, so there are 30,000 or 40,000 that are needlessly blind from cataracts who could be easily helped with a five to ten minute surgery," he said.

As an active member of the Sunrise Rotary Club in the Tri-Cities, Guzek relayed the information to his group, who all agreed to support his efforts to help as many people as possible living there. He's been going there for five years with a team of Rotarian volunteers. But even a week of work was not enough. "There were so many blind people, I could not begin to get to the end of the blind people," said Guzek who has already performed more than 1,500 cataract surgeries there.

So with the help of the Rotary and the Tropical Health Alliance Foundation, Guzek opened up a small clinic in Dembi Dolo, and hired an Ethiopian ophthalmologist, Dr, Samuel Bora to perform surgeries there for two weeks out of the month at the clinic.

"We have to come up with the salary for him as well as the expenses for all the disposables. It comes out to about $90,000 a year that we've committed ourselves to," said Guzek.

Next week, Guzek and a team of five Rotarians are heading to the clinic to do some more work. "'I'm heading back for my fifth trip to visit the clinic and encourage them. I'll be working with Dr. Samuel this trip. We're going to try to do over 200 surgeries in a week," he said.

Also volunteering to go on the trip is Lorraine Cooper, a Rotarian, and the spokesperson for the Kennewick School District. She said she'll be working in the OR, doing the basics to prepare people for surgery. Cooper said there's a huge need, one ophthalmologist for every 100,000 people.

She said helping the blind is not the only benefit of restoring people's sight, but helping children get an education is a big incentive as well."Usually there's a young child that's assigned to these people that have the blindness to walk them around to actually take them to the bathroom. and they can't go to school."

For this upcoming trip, the Sunrise Rotary and Washington AAA managed to raise $21,000 thousand dollars, an amount that was matched by a doctor in California.

Dr. Guzek says it will cost the patients in Ethiopia $13 dollars to get cataract surgery, but the amount would be compensated if they cannot afford it.