2018 Peru Recap
What a week it was in Peru! We were blessed to participate in the 8th annual medical campaign sponsored by the local church in Cusco. Each March, a team of optometrists, medical doctors, physical therapists, nurses, pharmacists, and countless non-medical professionals from the US descend on the city, providing free medical care to the residents of Cusco in hopes of reaching them for Christ.
As we mentioned in last year’s recap, this has become one of our favorite weeks of the year because we get to reunite with so many friends that we have made over the past 8 years; some are reunions with local Peruvians that take time off of work to come help make the clinic a success, and some are with campaigners from the U.S. that we have stood shoulder to shoulder with as we served. Each year, we try to soak up how special these times are in our lives, and this year’s campaign was no exception.
Two of the original missionary families that planted the congregation in Cusco will be returning to the US in October 2018 to help plant a church in Charlotte, NC, so this was the last medical campaign for them to be a part of. These amazing families have sacrificed the past 10 years of their lives in order to reach lost souls for the Lord, and we couldn’t be more proud to know them and be a small part of the work in Cusco. As the campaign concluded, we all gathered around the members of the church in Cusco and the missionaries, and we asked God to bless them and their works. It was a special moment that we won’t soon forget.
For the 2nd consecutive year, we were able to work in the local district of San Sabastian in a small park called Parque Cachimayo. In fact, we used the exact same facility as last year (which is fantastic for setting up a clinic like this). One of the biggest obstacles in prior campaigns was ensuring that we would have access to a consistent power supply to charge our portable equipment. Thankfully, that is not a problem at this facility. You can see a good summary of the clinic layout on this Facebook video.
Cast of characters
Before going any further, we want to mention our team of helpers in our optometry area. This year’s team is mostly the same as before. Dr. Mowrer held down the fort back home for us while we were away (thank you, Dr M!). Our volunteers did a phenomenal job organizing the patients, doing their pre-testing, instilling dilating drops, translating tirelessly, and finally dispensing prescription glasses to those in need. Mind you, these aren’t folks who work in the optometry field the other 51 weeks out of the year. We have a banker, a webmaster, a former insurance adjuster, an EMT, a home inspector, a preacher, a few housewives, and a college student helping us pull off the enormous feat that we can accomplish in just 4 days. Everyone is quick to learn, flexible as situations arise, and eager to help. We absolutely could not do it without them.
Each year we have conducted the clinic, we have become more efficient, allowing us to reach more people. This year represented another new record: 1,981 total patients came through our clinic in 4 days.
Of that number, 1,141 came to see the eye docs (also a record). In this setting, we have to set up an assembly line system to maximize our efficiency. At one point, we were seeing about 60 patients every hour.
Before this year, we had only seen more than 300 patients in a day once. This year, we beat that number twice (303 on Wednesday and 323 on Thursday).
We had over 350 individual Bible studies with patients of the clinic during the week. 4 precious souls decided to put on Christ in baptism right then! This is the real reason why we do this mission work!
Our favorite patients
We had multiple opportunities to witness a big smile grow on the faces of young and old as they saw clearly for the first time in many years, or maybe even ever! Sometimes, all it took was a cheap pair of dollar store reading glasses to help them finally see at near again. Other times, it was quite the challenge to match a very difficult prescription to something we had in our inventory, especially if a little Peruvian girl happened to need the same frame that a large American man once used.
If you followed the #Cusco18 hashtag this year, you probably stumbled across the highlight of Day 2, when we dispensed a pair of high powered glasses to a little 6 year old boy, who instantly fell in love with his new vision. It took a few adjustments, but we got the frames to fit him pretty well before he left.
We had our share of craziness: the room full of 3-6 year olds screaming in unison while their moms get their eye exam done; the frantic searches for someone who can translate Quechua (the ancient native language); the 3 year old boy that punched not one, not two, but 3 different people before he left with his new glasses; the ever-constant plea for squeezing in just a few more patients before the end of the day.
There were plenty of moments of heartbreak as well. One of the most frustrating things to have to tell a patient is that they have lost their sight, and there is no way to restore it. We had one gentleman who had a complication from a surgery in both eyes that permanently damaged his optic nerves. He spent an entire day in line waiting to see us, hoping that American doctors would have some way of helping him see again. One of the worst parts of our job is having to tell someone that they will never be able to see again.
One family of five (a mother and 4 young children) came to see us this week. They were obviously malnourished, and it appeared that they lived on the streets of Cusco. There is no telling how long it had been since they had bathed. We handed them as many snacks as they asked for. 3 of the 4 kids needed glasses, along with the mother. We wish we could have done so much more.
The patient pictured above seemed to represent the purpose of our time in Cusco each year. She came to our clinic on Thursday. Most weeks, we dread Thursday because we are sad to see the campaign ending, and we are running out of prescription glasses by then. So Thursday morning, this 70 year old lady came and sat with Dr. P to have her eyes checked. “Que problemas tienes con su vista, mama?”, he asked her. She said she felt like she could see well at distance, but like most 70 year olds, her near vision had declined. Based on our experience during the week and previous campaigns, we assumed that she worked with her hands and needed more magnification to thread a needle or create pieces of artistry for sale. She informed us that she needed these glasses because she was learning to read. Oh, the things we take for granted!
Dr P was able to take his wife along this year, so the two of them toured the famous ruins of Machu Picchu. As always, pictures fall short in representing the awe-inspiring archaeological site.
Dr W joined most of the veterans of the campaign on a hike to a newer hiking trail that takes you to an isolated area where you can view condors in flight. The scenery was breathtaking: mountain ranges surrounding the trail on every side, a mighty river flowing in the valley below that you could barely hear, and an amazing view of 5 condors circling the viewing station.
Thankfully, the weather cooperated for both groups on Friday, so we were able to take some pictures to share with you:
Ophthalmologist in Cusco
Every Saturday before we fly home, we try to have a good breakfast at a local bakery called “Don Estaban”. Our traditional table was already taken by a guy in a University of Georgia baseball cap, so we struck up a conversation with him. Turns out, he’s an ophthalmologist that has lived in Cusco for 7 years that specializes in cataract surgeries and glaucoma care. His clinic is centered around helping the needy as a service, and is located just a few miles from where our clinic has been set up for the past 2 years.
One thing that has always bothered us about our campaign is the inability we have had to refer patients to a local eye doctor for continued care of their cataracts, glaucoma, etc. We exchanged information with him today, and he invited us to come tour their facility next year when we return. This will give us an opportunity to send patients who need specialized care to a trusted doctor in town. You know, every now and then, you can just see God working (Romans 8:28).