Michele Markovitz MD – 2020 (Belize)

I had the privilege of spending a week with Dr. Michael Wong performing small incision cataract surgery for patients at BCVI clinic in Belize City, Belize. With only one medical ophthalmologist and not a single surgical ophthalmologist in all of Belize, these patients have severely limited access to eye care. They regularly wait years before they are able to undergo routine cataract surgery, and as a result suffer from profound, debilitating vision loss. In our week in Belize, we operated on over 40 patients suffering from count fingers to light perception vision from advanced cataracts. Operating in Belize opened my eyes to the unique set of obstacles that arise when delivering eye care in the developing world. Our first stop after landing at the airport was to drive straight to the clinic to make sure our surgical microscope was functional. After a generous application of WD-40, we were up and running. I am now realizing how many of us take for granted the top of the line resources at our immediate disposal in the US. In Belize, all supplies- surgical instruments, intraocular lenses, medications, even gowns and gloves are in short supply, and nothing gets wasted. The team at BCVI is resourceful, and despite their limitations, they are still providing excellent care to their patients without compromise. I was honored to be a part of the team caring for some of the most gracious and compassionate people I have ever met. During our last day in the OR, one of our patients, still in the middle of surgery, couldn’t keep in any longer, “I will cherish this moment,” he said to us. “Thank you.” He doesn’t realize that I will cherish that moment for the rest of my life. My experience in Belize has certainly solidified my commitment to global ophthalmology, and I look forward to continuing this commitment throughout my career. I want to thank Dr. Wong and the entire Wills Eye Alumni Society for providing me this incredible opportunity. I will never forget it!