Rochester Rotary is helping change lives globally through repeat mission trips to Nuevo Edén, Guatemala. Rochester Rotary President and local pediatrician, Jay Eastman, M.D., his wife, Rochester Rotarian Linda Eastman, and Rochester Rotarian Dr. Bill Ebinger, led the efforts for the vision mission trips, with the most recent trip taking place Jan. 18 – 24, 2014.


Through the support of other Rotary Clubs in District 6380 and private donations, Rochester Rotary has sent the Eastmans, Ebinger and other Rochester Rotarians on annual medical mission trips to Guatemala to treat the general population of Nuevo Edén since 2007. During the annual trips, patients that need follow-up care are identified and, through collaborative efforts with other physicians and medical practitioners, the majority of whom are Rotarians, follow-up trips are made to provide the additional care needed. It was on the annual trip in Nov. 2012 that the medical team noted the dire need for a variety of vision treatments.


In September, Dr. Eastman partnered with two optometrists and a student from Bascom-Palmer Eye Institute in Miami, Fla. to treat more than 350 patients in Nuevo Edén. Of those patients, 98 received reader eyeglasses, 74 were identified that needed prescription glasses and an additional 76 patients were identified that needed cataract surgery. Based on the assessment of follow-up care needed, the medical team was in Nuevo Edén from Dec.2-6to distribute the prescription glasses.  The team then performed 70 cataract surgeries during the most recent trip.


The patients served on the January vision mission were 65 to 90 years of age and traveled more than 13 hours to arrive at the hospital where the surgeries were performed. According to Linda Eastman, for many of the patients, it was the first time they had been away from their communities.


“It was a leap of faith to venture out into the unknown, especially since a lot of them do not speak Spanish. However, a Mayan woman named Magdalena, a health promoter from one of their villages, accompanied them and made sure they felt secure in the unfamiliar surroundings,” said Linda Eastman.


Of the 70 patients treated, only 15 could sign their name on the surgery consent form; the remaining 55 patients had to consent with a thumbprint, said Linda Eastman.


“I know that the hospital bed was the most comfortable thing they have ever slept on. For these patients, it is typical to sleep on a straw mat on the floor,” said Linda Eastman.


The morning after the cataract surgeries were performed, the doctors checked the patients’ eyes to make sure there were no post-op complications. According to Dr. Bill Ebinger, when the bandage came off, it was obvious the patient was seeing clearly for the first time in a very long time.


“The patients would start pointing at things when the bandage was removed and at their family members. One man even tossed aside his cane and walked unassisted. It was so rewarding to see the patients’ reactions to having their sight restored,” said Ebinger.


“The patients expressed their deep appreciation in many different ways with lots of hugs and kisses, ‘muchas gracias!’ and ‘God bless you!’ as well,” said Linda Eastman. “At the end of the trip, 70 people who could not see a week prior had their vision restored. We were extremely happy with how things went and hope we can do it again in the future.”