My Amazing Experience in the Democratic Republic of Congo
Visiting the Congo
Two weeks ago, I joined a SEE program in Kinshasa, the capital city of the Democratic Republic of Congo, to help start a vision care program at the Biamba Marie Mutombo Hospital. In addition to our team, there were high-profile figures from every walk of life, including NBA Hall of Famer Dikembe Mutombo (whose foundation built the hospital), actor Patrick Warburton, and Cindy McCain, wife of U.S. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ). We also worked alongside the Starkey Foundation, which focuses on treating hearing impairments.
Bringing in Help
The Democratic Republic of Congo (which was known as Zaire until 1997) is one of the poorest countries in the world. Very few of its citizens have access to vision care. Only a handful of trained ophthalmologists live in the country, which is the second-largest in Africa, in terms of area. For this reason, we needed to bring in some A-level doctors. Our surgical team was ably led by two amazing SEE Docs, Helena Ndume, M.D. of Windhoek, Namibia; and Scott Hickman, M.D., of Lawrence, Kansas. It was a great honor to assist these two physicians, both of whom are absolutely superb. As this was the first-ever eye surgery program at the Mutombo Hospital, the team faced a variety of challenges. However, everyone pulled together and truly made this program a success.
The most memorable part of the program was watching patients take off their eye patches after surgery and being able to see clearly again. Watching the smile grow on a child’s face when they realize they can see the world around them is one of the best experiences. At one point, the whole room we set aside for post-op patients broke out into song, praising the doctors for helping them. What a heartwarming moment!
We will be sharing photos and video from the clinic over the next few weeks. We restored sight to 107 men, women, and children, who otherwise would have been blind, perhaps permanently. That’s even more than we planned for. For me, that’s a very happy ending to my first SEE program.