Dr. Mark Silverberg – My SEE Story in Vietnam

October 2015 | Patient stories, Stories from the field

By Dr. Mark Silverberg

SEE Doctor

Dr. Silverberg: Volunteering in Vietnam

In 2002, I traveled to Da Nang, Vietnam, as part of a SEE (Surgical Eye Expeditions) project.  My father, Dr. Harvey Silverberg, who is also an ophthalmologist, joined me.  It was an amazing experience on many levels.

First, to be able to travel to another country and perform eye surgery alongside my father was a genuine treat.

Second, I was apprehensive about our reception in a country that only a few decades earlier had been our nemesis.  My apprehension was instantly alleviated by our gracious Vietnamese hosts and by the warmth of our patients.  They were incredibly thirsty to share our knowledge and technology.  In particular, they had limited exposure to strabismus surgery. They were therefore incredibly excited to see the Apt clamp, a spring-loaded eye muscle clamp developed by Leonard Apt (at JSEI).  In fact, as a parting gift, I left a clamp for them to keep.  The surgeons were thrilled!

Third, the Vietnamese surgeons impressed me.  Their clinical volume was extraordinary.  In the one week we were there, we saw profound pathology including dozens of mature cataracts, advanced strabismus, and a case of bilateral retinoblastoma.  The Vietnamese surgeons demonstrated great skill – all the more so, given their limited resources.  For example, I felt amazed at their precision while performing a sutureless extracapsular cataract extraction.  Truthfully, it was humbling to see how our Vietnamese hosts were able to achieve outstanding results with such minimal equipment!

One of the most memorable moments was being in the middle of a complex strabismus case, when the power went out.  The whole operating room was pitch-black.  The Vietnamese nurses calmly explained this was a regular occurrence.  We finished the case under the dim illumination of a handheld 99-cent flashlight (and the patient did great!)

Bringing It Back Home

Since returning from Vietnam, I have immersed myself in the local arm of SEE, the Santa Barbara Vision Care Program.  Ironically, I realized that one does not have to travel across the globe to see impoverished populations with advanced pathology.  Here in Santa Barbara, I see dozens of children with amblyopia and strabismus.  Through the generosity of local organizations, including Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital and Santa Barbara Eyeglass Factory, I am able to treat these children who would otherwise lose their vision.

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