Board Member Dr. Marty Spencer is currently in Cambodia training ophthalmologists on surgical techniques. Marty’s niece and her family, who are long-time Seva supporters, happened to be in Cambodia at the same time and stopped in to watch the Seva team in action.
Below is the heartwarming story of their experience that we are excited to share with you!
Just weeks before leaving on our world adventure, we discovered that we were going to be in Cambodia at the same time as my Uncle Marty Spencer. Those of you who know me well have heard me talk endlessly about my wonderful West-coast family – Marty and his three daughters; Nicole, Laura and Justine. All remarkable people, including their spouses and children. My grandparents were great about bragging about all our accomplishments and I’ve taken over in that department!!! And today I got to witness first-hand the amazing volunteer work that Marty does – restoring sight to people around the world.
If you haven’t yet heard of Seva, check this out www.seva.ca and it also exists in the States at www.seva.org. Marty has been involved with Seva for over 30 years, Laura is the Chair of the Board for Seva Canada, and if you are looking for a charity to support where your dollars actually make a real change, you’ve found your match at Seva.
Yesterday, we ventured into a rural community outside of Battambang to visit a screening camp. Here a locally trained ophthalmologists’ assistant spends time in a community doing an initial assessment for people who have eye problems. Over 50 individuals were assessed with 40 given referrals to return the next day to take a bus to Battambang for surgery where they would stay overnight, be checked in the morning and released the next day after cataract surgery complete with the necessary eye drops and follow-up instructions – all paid for by Seva.
Today we went back to the hospital to watch some of the patients have their eye patches removed. Honestly, I don’t have the words to describe how incredibly touching it was to watch people who were previously blind, have their patch removed and then they could see. That’s the thing about cataract surgery, it has a profound impact on somebody’s quality of life – they were blind and now they can see – in just 1 day!
I watched an elderly woman sit quietly as her patch was removed. There was no fanfare – this was not American reality tv with screens of “now I can see”. Instead, she sat with her hands in the prayer position near her nose (which is the gesture for “thank you” in Cambodian) and she very slowly looked around the room, seeing what she could. Her second eye would be done later that day but for the time being, she could see for the first time in FIVE years. She very quietly spoke to her daughter and our translator told us that she said “I didn’t think I could go on but now I can see”. Her slight smile was glorious and you could see the look of relief on her daughter’s face.
I’ve never witnessed anything like this before. The impact is so profound and real. Marty and his colleagues performed 42 surgeries yesterday alone. Marty worked with another Doctor who was trained by Seva 10 years ago and is now the Director of the Eye Institute in Battambang, illustrating one of Seva’s philosophies of providing training to local staff so that the work can carry on long-term and not just when doctors from the West come to town. Marty talked about how he can see the long-term impact of Seva’s work – in the early days almost every person had cataracts that had progressed to complete blindness in both eyes. Now he sees cases earlier, due to the field work being done by the assistants and because patients go back to their community and speak positively about their experience, helping to dispel some of the myths of eye surgery and the fear associated with leaving your home for the procedure.
Thank you to the Seva staff (Julie, Jack, Leslie) for letting the ginger snaps tag along. Always happy to meet fellow members of the Marty fan club!