Last month our medical team treated a young boy with bulging, watery eyes. He was diagnosed with glaucoma, a build-up of fluid and pressure inside his eyes. If left untreated, the pressure would end up damaging his optic nerve, rendering him permanently blind. He was already experiencing deteriorating vision when our team examined him, and they knew that they would have to act quickly if they were going to save his eyesight. Unfortunately, with the thousands of patients that came to our clinics every day, our team was not able to find the right medicine for the boy while on the ground in Malawi. But Lucy Goeke, a VIP Board Member and the head of our medical team, kept thinking about the boy on her flight home and was determined to save his vision.
Lucy visited several Ophthalmologists when she returned to the United States, describing to them the boy’s condition and asking what could be done to help him. On the day that VIP Executive Director Liz Heinzel-Nelson was scheduled to return to the U.S. Lucy was told what medicine to get to treat the boy’s glaucoma and she emailed Liz the information. Liz received the email on her way to the airport to catch her flight home and immediately made a detour, stopping at several pharmacies until she found one with the right medicine. Thanks to Lucy’s persistence, Liz’s determination and the help of the VIP staff in delivering the medicine to his mother, the young boy received three months’ supply of the medicine to treat his glaucoma.
Unfortunately, while glaucoma is a very treatable disease, it requires a lifetime of care to keep it under control. In order to save his eyesight the boy would need to continue to take the medicine for the rest of his life. But of course the lifetime cost of the medicine would be far more than his family could ever hope to pay. And sadly this happens all too often to people living in extreme poverty. The medicine and procedures exist to help them, but they don’t have the money to pay for them. So instead of having their diseases treated, they go blind, lose their teeth, or a limb, and sometimes even their lives. In fact, Dr. Geoff Tabin, Co-Founder of the Himalayan Cataract Project, highlighted the tragic relationship between blindness and death in the developing world: “You know, once someone goes blind in a developing world, their life expectancy is about one-third that of age and health matched peers. And for a blind child, the life expectancy is five years. And also in the developing world, it takes, often, a person out of the work force, or a child out of school, to care for the blind person. So when we restore sight to a blind person, we’re freeing up their family and restoring their life.”
Fortunately, this story, and many others that VIP is involved in, ends differently than many others in the developing world. Bryan and Jeff Clippinger, the sons of Registered Nurse, Jackie Clippinger, formed a wonderful bond with this young boy while they were in Malawi on the medical trip, and their family has agreed to pay for his glaucoma medication for the rest of his life! Thanks to the actions of our Medical team and the incredible generosity of the Clippinger family, this young boy will have his eyesight, and perhaps his life, saved!