Life-Changing Mission for Panama Children
Dr. Oester with several Panama children
Strabismus is the medical term for crossed or misaligned eyes, and ptosis is the term for droopy eyelids. These conditions not only affect the visual system’s development, but are often emotionally debilitating to a child’s self-esteem. Ophthalmologists in the Republic of Panama have been working to eliminate these conditions in as many children as possible through Niños Sanos, Niños Felices, a program of the Fundación Pro-Integración directed by Panamanian ophthalmologists Jorge Arrue, MD, and Felix Ruiz, MD, and coordinated by trustees Virginia Alvarado, Soraya Bhiku and J. Thomas Ford.
The Hamilton Eye Institute (HEI) has been participating in this program since 2010, thanks to Ernesto A. Calvo, MD, a UT clinical professor of Ophthalmology who is based in Panama who recommended our institute to the program directors. This year, HEI was again invited to take part in this wonderful event. Participants from HEI included Dr. Haik, oculoplastic surgery instructor Margaret Phillips, MD, UTMG/HEI surgery center anesthesiologist DeRayne Boykins, MD, and HEI alumni Alan E. Oester, MD, and Adham Al-Hariri, MD.
Pre-screened children and their families were brought to the El Vigia Hospital in the village of Chitré, where more than 140 surgeries were performed by volunteer ophthalmic surgeons from Panama and the United States. Many were also screened for eye cancer, congenital cataracts and other conditions.
As children recovered in the post-operative recovery area, the effect of their repaired lids and corrected eye alignment was obvious. Children who previously felt ashamed of their appearance were beaming with confident smiles. “Most of these children are less than 10 years old,” said Ford. “They are at an age where they can get back their self-esteem. That’s just as important as recovering eyesight. We have changed their lives.”
When the mission was complete, Drs. Arrue, Ruiz, Haik, and world-renowned pediatric ophthalmologist Dr. Kenneth W. Wright were invited to a special ceremony at the Presidency of the Republic. There, the first lady of Panama, Marta Linares de Martinelli, presented special presidential awards to them in recognition of their ongoing selfless work improving the lives of the children of Panama.
An eye cancer patient awaiting his evaluation with his dad
A child smiles with newfound pride in his appearance after surgical repair of a droopy eyelid
Dr. Haik with some of the happy Panamanian children in the program
Panama’s first lady presents a presidential award to Dr. Haik
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