Local ophthalmologist gives the gift of sight to those in need
BY: Mickey Goodman
In 2005, Buckhead resident Dr. Alan Benedict read an article in a medical journal about Surgical Eye Expeditions International (SEE International) and how it was seeking ophthalmologists and medical personnel to volunteer in countries where medical services are slim to none. Doctors not only donate their time and pay their own travel expenses, they also take with them all necessary surgical instruments and supplies, including anesthesia, intravenous drugs, eye drops, lens implants and bandages. Benedict signed up immediately and volunteers every other year.
On his first trip, Benedict, who opened Georgia Eye Specialists in Marietta in 1996, went to Namibia, a land of breathtaking beauty and crushing poverty. “We examined 300 patients and did about 250 surgeries, mostly cataracts, which are a severe problem in impoverished areas,” he says. “People develop them at an earlier age than they do in First World countries because of high exposure to the sun, arid environments and poor nutrition. Many become blind as a result and family members have to care for them.” The youngest patient was only 8 years old.
The long day on a SEE International mission begins when medical volunteers travel by van to a field hospital, where they examine patients who are subsequently transported into the villages for the surgery if needed. They sometimes do 100 surgeries per day.
“Patients are overwhelmingly grateful to get their sight and their independence back and like to give us doctors presents,” says Benedict. “The most touching gift I ever received was from a man who gave me his walking stick made from a branch. With tears in his eyes he said, ‘Because of you, I don’t need it anymore.’”
SEE International runs entirely on donations and seeks money as well as medical supplies. Since 1974, volunteers such as Benedict have conducted four million screenings and conducted a half-million surgeries in more than 45 countries.