TCU Pre-Med Student Volunteers in Zihuatanejo, Mexico

October 2015 | Stories from the field

By Caleb Ashbrook

SEE Medical Volunteer

Zihuatanejo, Mexico, May 2015

Caleb Ashbrook is a pre-med student from Texas Christian University (TCU), who volunteered on a joint SEE International & Mission of Healing Eyes sight-restoring program to Zihuatanejo, Mexico in May 2015.

It certainly was a week to remember. From one Saturday to the other in mid-May, my life was blessed with a unique opportunity. I traveled with a brilliant team of doctors and dedicated team members to Zihuatanejo, Mexico, to serve the community there. The team was composed of three surgeons and another ten people who assisted the surgeons with various prep work, sterilization, and a variety of other tasks. I met the team in Houston (they flew in from Denver) and after introductions we embarked on our flight to Mexico.

We structured the week to maximize the number of surgeries while maintaining the quality care given to each patient. The Mission of Healing Eyes, started and led by Dr. Jim Conahan, focused on the applications of the “Model of Compassion.” This model utilizes the strengths of the individual team members in the completion of specific tasks. Thus, the surgeons performed surgery, and other team members assisted by either prepping the patients, moving them in and out of beds, or attaining all of their information, and giving the patients their respective IOLs. In this way, the surgeons were able to perform 180 sight restoring surgeries – roughly 160 cataract surgeries and 20 pterygium surgeries.

We began setting up at the local Naval Hospital the moment we touched down in Zihuatanejo. After years of service to the area, the local government was willing to assist in any way possible. They lent the team space in the naval hospital, and assigned workers from the DIF (social services) to translate and bring in patients. Exhausted after a day of set-up, our group enjoyed a dinner together before heading back to rest up for the days to come.

Zihuatenajo, Mexico

Each day, surgery began just after 7:00 am. We arrived early to set up and prepare for the day. Soon, we were busy moving patients in and out, preparing them for surgery, and learning from the incredible team of surgeons operating on the cataracts of the patients. Left untreated for years, the cataracts were often black or dark yellow. As each surgeon removed cataract after cataract, I began to see the incredible impact this mission was making.

After just 15 minutes, men and women who had lost most of their vision for years would soon be able to see. The final post-op day gave me an incredible insight into this, as all patients cycled through to see the doctors. Using the Spanish I’ve gained while at TCU I was able to talk with some of the patients that came through that day.

It was incredible to hear their stories. One man had arrived for surgery days before, telling the doctors, “Be very careful with my good eye. It’s my only one!” He was a coconut farmer whose right eye had been damaged by two separate accidents. The first thing he did when he removed his patch, he told me, was read his small Bible. It was amazing to witness them giving thanks to the doctors and God for giving them their sight.

Zihuatenajo, Mexico

Kenia, a young blind girl with down syndrome,
stole the hearts of everyone during the expedition. Her surgery was a success!

Every patient had a remarkable story, and it was a blessing to serve them in any way I could. The kindness and trust of the people of Mexico was amazing to me. They were willing to walk into a large room, among surgeons and others speaking a foreign language. They placed full trust in us with one of the most important aspects of their lives – their vision. It was a truly remarkable experience to see the effects that this mission had. There were 180 patients that had their vision restored, changing not only their lives but the lives of their friends and family who had previously taken care of them. Overall, I gained an appreciation for the culture of Mexico, the food, the people, their kindness, and faith.

I also witnessed first-hand the power of medicine. I saw that the work I’ve put in during my pre-med time at TCU was worth it. I am incredibly thankful to SEE and the doctors with The Mission of Healing Eyes for this life changing experience. I hope that I can take what I’ve learned from volunteering in Zihuatanejo and apply it throughout my life.

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