Why I'll Always Support SEE International — and How You Can, Too by Dr. Hilal-Campo
Through my work as a board-certified ophthalmologist, I frequently see fortunate Americans taking their vision for granted. Even in the case of serious conditions, many patients in this country are able to recover and keep their sight through the skill of doctors’ intensive training, advancements in modern medicine, and sheer privilege. But for those who are less fortunate around the world — and right here among underserved communities in the United States — poor ocular health can take a significant toll, not only on the individual’s livelihood, but on their families. I saw this firsthand on a medical mission trip with SEE International, a non-profit organization that connects host doctors in underserved communities worldwide with eye care professionals.
I traveled to Accra, Ghana, where two other American doctors and I donated our time and expertise. Ahead of my eight-day trip, I reached out to pharmaceutical companies asking them to donate things like intraocular lenses and antibiotics so I could bring them with me to treat patients. Upon arrival, my colleagues and I organized our equipment in anticipation of the surgeries ahead and then, along with an optometrist and nonmedical volunteers, traveled to a remote village about three hours away to assess potential patients who traveled to see us in our mobile office, a mud hut with a vision chart on the wall.
As the optometrist helped treat issues like infections and presbyopia, I analyzed patients to determine if they qualified for treatment with my specialty — cataract surgery. These patients typically ranged from their late thirties to their sixties and suffered from severe cataracts that had been exacerbated by poor nutrition or unprotected UV exposure. Those with especially dense cataracts — who were only able to perceive light and were otherwise practically blind — were picked up the next morning before 4 a.m. so they could arrive for surgery at the clinic of our host doctor, Dr. Thomas Baah, by 7:30 a.m.
Without sight, older patients couldn’t contribute to their households with even simple tasks like cooking prep. Younger ones couldn’t work to help support their families. By essentially being blind, they became burdens to their families. In addition to filling me with gratitude for my own health, it reminded me of the importance of practicing medicine and helping those who are less fortunate.
It’s important to understand that cataract surgery utilizes ultrasound technology and sutures in most American operating rooms. However, the Ghanians we worked with and treated didn’t have access to either. I performed manual small incision cataract surgery — a technique that allows you to work efficiently and without sutures — on 25 patients a day as another doctor operated on another patient beside me. My colleagues and I performed hundreds of surgeries and follow-up visits in just five days.
I would encourage any surgeon or nonmedical volunteer to consider donating their time and efforts to a medical mission trip like those of SEE International. In addition to giving back to underserved communities, you’ll sharpen your skills, help guide doctors abroad, and bring an informed perspective back to your own practice. During the pandemic, international missions have been on hold for American surgeons. When travel is less limited, there will be a huge backlog of patients to see and surgeries to perform. However, throughout this time, the organization has been financially supporting the international clinics and their local doctors, as well as providing services to underserved areas of the United States, including Indian reservations.
This World Sight Day, October 14, the twenty/twenty beauty team wants you to feel even better when you buy and wear our products. On that day, we’ll be donating 20% of our sales to SEE International to support their critical work. If you’ve never shopped the collection before, I suggest you start with our Easy on the Eyes Daily Hygiene Facial Spray. It helps keep the eyes (and skin!) clean to support good ocular health — something we should never take for granted.