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Himalayan Cataract Project: Climbers and Docs working miracles
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Apr 20, 2005 16: 39 EST
“Question of Miracle” is a current HBO investigative documentary, focusing on leaders of the charismatic Christian Ministry who perform “miracles”. It’s scary stuff, really. Although there is a tiny placebo effect for some, most unfortunately don’t heal at all. Instead they lose tens of thousand of dollars out of their meager wages, lured/threatened into donating by false prophets who dangle hope before their desperate eyes.

The documentary leaves you wishing for real doctors, performing real miracles - for free. That’s why the North Face's Himalayan Cataract Project is such a joy.

First day of surgery past Maoist lines

The field hospital is set up. Kathmandu and Maoist threats are behind them. Now the extreme docs are accomplishing what they came to Everest to do: Helping underprivileged Nepalese people recover their sight.

Led by seven-time Everest summiteer Pete Athans, the Cataract Project team (consisting of a group of doctors, a selection of athletes from the North Face team, and a filming crew from Serac Films), brings its expertise to Nepal.

North Face climber Conrad Anker reported on the first day of surgery.

Eye Camp: 700 hoping for a chance

”On the morning of the 16th of April the doors of the Jiri Technical College were opened for the Tilganga Eye Camp. Over seven hundred Nepalis filled a green cricket pitch. In addition to screening for cataracts, the eye camp provides eye assessment and prevention awareness.

From the initial registration onwards, a feeling of community was present. Gossip and tea were as much a part of the scene as the doctors and their instruments. Many patients and their families had walked several days in hopes of treatment.”

Eight minutes to see again

”Cataracts are small occlusions which form from the protein lens. They can be removed and replaced with a synthetic lens, and is therefore a treatable form of blindness. For the few patients suffering from cataracts this weekend was an opportunity for renewed vision.

The nursing students of the Jiri Technical College took vital signs and prepared the patients for surgery. Once the eyelashes were trimmed and the eyes anesthetized the patients were ushered to one of two operating theatres equipped with surgical microscopes. Dr. Sanduk Ruit of Nepal and Dr. Geoff Tabin of the USA performed more than 100 cataract surgeries on the first morning, in eight to ten minutes each.”

The joy of sight

“The patients are able to walk with assistance from the surgery theatre to a dorm room where they are attended to by family. The following morning the patients step out and have their bandages removed. The people beam with the joy of sight.”

“We have one more day in Jiri to conclude this camp and will then trek to Phaplu for the second clinic.”

Changing people’s lives

Behind the medical reports and cold statistics, each individual undergoing surgery has a moving story. The team is putting names and faces to some cases, showing how a simple surgery can radically change a family’s life.

Don’t miss Dil BahadurTamang’s story by Pete Athans on The North Face expedition’s website. The 84 year-old man was brought to the “eye camp” on the back of his grandson. The off-track walking trip took two days. When he awoke the morning after the surgery, he looked around to discover the world again, and realized that his grandson had become a man since the last time he saw him.

"Its not often in the world of mountaineering that an expedition can say they are going over to Nepal not only to climb a beautiful 6000m mountain (Cholatse), but also to help contribute to eradicating curable and preventable blindness. Well, this is exactly what a small crew of doctors, climbers, filmmakers, and photographers are about to embark on for the next month and a half," reported the team in their first dispatch. That was the introduction to the Cataract Project, currently at work in rural areas of Nepal.

The expedition leader is well-known seven-time Everest summiteer, Peter Athans. Dr. Geoffrey Tabin, is also an Everest summiteer, and other familiar names include Conrad Anker, Kevin Thaw, Abby Watkins and John Griber. Rounding out the team are Michael Brown and David D’Angelo of Serac Films, and two additional photographers, Jordan Campbell and Kristoffer Erikson.

Live image over Contact 3.0 of a bi-laterally blind patient with recently restored sight, courtesy of Cataract Project team/The North Face.

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