Recently, Dr. Jeff Carlsen of Johnson City Eye Clinic took a medical missions trip to Kenya. We interviewed Dr. Carlsen about his exciting trip and the incredible impact that he and his team made upon hundreds upon hundreds of lives across the globe.
There were 6 travelers with 18 bags – 12 of them were full of medical equipment and supplies bound for the Kapsowar Hospital.
TWC: Can you briefly describe whot the nature and purpose of your trip was?
Our 16-day trip was a humanitarian mission to Kapsowar, Kenya to provide aid to citizens of Marakwet County. We worked closely with Kapsowar Mission Hospital, which is a mission hospital that serves the region. Sponsored by the Johnson City Rotary Club, we were able to provide medical supplies for the hospital. The unique part of this trip was the educational and fellowship component that accompanied the supplies. Previous trips I have been on have involved predominantly taking in an entire team of people to provide care in a region. The primary difference in this trip is that the goal of the trip was to provide supplies and instrumentation to improve the ability of local providers ta take care of their awn community. Although a primary purpose of the trip was directly involved in healthcare and the trip was organized in these typical ways, the primary difference was the capacity to incorporate the local providers to work side by side with the Johnson City physician team. A direct dialogue had been initiated with the local providers prior to the trip to determine specific needs and shortages in the area, and we were able to directly address these areas of concern.
TCW: Who went on the trip and what did you do?
Our team consisted of seven healthcare providers from the Johnson City area-myself, Mike Mefford, dentistry, Shelley Brouillette, veterinary medicine, Lee Johnson, family practice, Sarah Carrier, emergency medicine, and Judy Fischer, obstetrics and gynecology. The team provided several medical outreach clinics in remote villages providing care for approximately 1,600 patients over the 2·week period. The ophthalmologic portion of the trip was particularly rewarding. This is where I was involved. I worked side by side with two local ophthalmolo· gists and support staff from the region. We were able to screen and treat approximately 250 patients and perform at least 60 surgeries during the course of the trip. The primary surgery performed was cataract surgery. I find cataract surgery in this setting particularly rewarding because of the signifi· cant disability that the patients suffer. The average patient being treated for cataract removal in this environment has vision which is completely debili· tated of hand motion or worse, which threatens the ability of the individual to care for themselves and perform basic daily activities. The chance to make such a profound difference with a relatively small investment of time and resources is a life changing experience for both patient and physician.
TCW: Was there any one person or case that stands out for you?
In addition to cataract surgeries, one unusual case of memory was a trauma that happened to come in while I was at the hospital. This young man had been struck in the eye with a bungee cord while attempting to tie goods to his motorcycle resulting in a laceration to his cornea and a ruptured globe. The fact that the injury happened when there was support staff and surgeons available to correct and repair the injury allowed this young man to save his vision and his eye, and I found this experience particularly fortuitous because had it occurred at any other time, the outcome for this young man would have been dramatically different. It reminded me that so much in our life is dependent on the good will of others and to some small degree the chance of circumstance.
TCW: Was there any one person that impacted you on the trip?
The people who impacted me most were the local healthcare providers. It was inspiring to see the commitment of the local healthcare community to provide for the needs of their community. I thoroughly enjoyed working with the local physicians, administrators and nurses and have left with a new personal commitment to help my newfound colleagues in their commitment to care for their community. I think that trips such as this have the potential to have a far greater impact by empowering the local community to take care of their own needs rather than approaching the problem by strictly donating personal time and resources. I think the potential to have a greater good is improved dramatically by involving the local community, and I look forward to working in this facet again in the future.
TCW: How did you personally grow on this trip?
As a whole, the people in Kenya I encountered had very little in the way of resources, yet they demonstrated a tremendous degree of gratitude. In general, they were very happy and well-connected people. I found this notable in contrast to what I frequently observe in our country. We are so blessed and regularly have access to a great deal of resources and opportunities, however, are often plagued by unhappiness and are less gracious than perhaps we should be. For me, this stark reminder of the role of generosity and gratitude will be a life-long lesson that I will strive to continue to emulate. I am always honored and feel very lucky to be involved in these trips and experiences, as I am never more content than when I am involved in an act of generosity.