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Sharing the Gift of Sight

Hawaiian Eye Foundation spreads its mission

In Hue, Vietnam last month, groups could be seen each gathered around microscopes in a lab. The groups were comprised of one Vietnamese eye doctor, one training specialist, and a translator. As the local doctors learned hands-on about cataract surgery from some of the world’s leading ophthalmologists, they huddled around rather nonpoetic specimens: pigs’ eyes.

The eyes were delivered on trays carried by two Molokai volunteers – pre-med student Kamahele Chow and Molokai resident Scott Shelton. They were part of a week-long Vietnam training conference conducted by the Hawaiian Eye Foundation. The foundation, led by Molokai resident Dr. John Corboy, is a nonprofit organization that gathers volunteers and medical professionals from around the world to serve residents of Southeast Asia and the Pacific Basin in need of eye care.

Hawaiian Eye Foundation’s last trip to Vietnam, with Molokai residents Kamahele Chow (far left), Scott Shelton (back row, second from left) and foundation president Dr. John Corboy (front center.) Photo by Pamela Utu.

The foundation relies on volunteer ophthalmologists and non-medical assistants from around the world to serve its mission, said Corboy. He calls himself a “professional beggar,” convincing eye doctors from counties like Canada, Germany and the U.S. to spend thousands of dollars on their own airfare, hotels and meals to assist treatment of patients and training of local ophthalmologists.

“Almost all say they got more out of it than they gave,” said Corboy.

Even if they cannot help in person, Corboy said a lot of people donate money to the organization. Ninety-three percent of donated funds go directly to the patients, he added. The foundation also accepts donations of equipment to supply clinics in Tonga, Fiji, Samoa, Palau, Thailand, Vietnam and other locations.

Corboy said the foundation does one training or surgery session somewhere almost every month, often by invitation of the local government. The Hawaiian Eye Foundation offers three different types of services: helping those in need of eye care; teaching and working with local doctors one on one; and training through programs in which 30 faculty often teach 400-500 local providers in a lecture format.

During the trip, 350 Vietnamese eye doctors learned to provide treatment of cataract, corneal and retinal disease, ocular reconstructive surgery and other procedures from 26 leading specialists from five countries. The conference was supported by nine U.S. and Asian equipment and pharmaceutical companies which provided their products for demonstration, according to a Hawaiian Eye Foundation press release.

Corboy said the ripple effect of the nonprofit’s work is huge: for example, on one trip, they would train student eye specialists who will go on to perform 1000 surgeries each year for the next 30 years.

“My satisfaction is knowing that whatever we can do, we’re doing,” said Corboy.

For more information on the foundation, visit hawaiianeyefoundation.org.


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