Ernie’s Story

By Paolena Comouche
Content Writer/Special Projects

At the end of October, volunteer SEE ophthalmologist Dr. James Conahan traveled to Zihuatanejo, Mexico, on a mission to restore sight to individuals in need. As the first international program SEE has been involved in since programs were halted in March due to COVID-19, the success of this mission was dependent on mutual trust between the patients and volunteers involved.

Before arriving to Zihuatanejo, Dr. Conahan was extremely nervous and unaware of what to expect from a program taking place during a pandemic. Having traveled to the same location for sight-restoration clinics 27 times in the past, Dr. Conahan was surprised to feel a new and overwhelming pressure that he had not yet experienced when arriving to the site. As the only surgeon on the volunteer medical team, he decided to trust that his team and patients would be safe throughout the program and focus on the mission at hand. Seven days later, they had successfully restored sight to 101 patients in need.

Among those patients was a handicapped man named Ernie. When initially meeting Ernie, he seemed impatient and aggressive to the medical staff. Ernie had been raised by his family in a loving household, and grew up to be happy and appreciative of those around him. However, as he aged, he developed severe cataracts that left him with the additional handicap of blindness. This once very loving and happy person became easily frustrated and seemingly aggressive due to his inability to see. While examining him at the clinic site, Ernie had shoved the optometrist attempting to help him.

When prepping Ernie for surgery, Dr. Conahan examined the immense cataract in Ernie’s eye, which resembled a large black piece of coal that was obscuring his vision. The surgery to remove this cataract took place near Ernie’s birthday, so when it went it went smoothly with no complications, Ernie was able to celebrate his special day by receiving the precious gift of sight. By the next day, Ernie could see again, and his family was overwhelmed with joy. Within a matter of 24 hours, Ernie’s happy and hopeful personality had returned.

SEE is proud to have had the opportunity to contribute to this mission by providing medical supplies after many months of program closures. We hope to continue aiding the humanitarian efforts of volunteer medical professionals so we can transform lives like Ernie’s together, despite the many challenges the world is currently facing.

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