They squeezed into the operating room until no one else could fit. Doctors, residents and trainees from the Philippines province of Iloilo stood shoulder to shoulder and watched closely as Dr. Eli Moses got to work.
He couldn’t have imagined performing a cornea transplant in front of dozens of people back at home where he’s a physician at Corneal Associates of New Jersey. But this was a mission trip with the Marian Rose Foundation. Filipino medical professionals huddled around Dr. Moses to observe and learn as he performed the surgeries with the assistance of his fellow, Dr. Kevin Cronin, and nursing and anesthesia staff from St. Barnabas Hospital.
“Patients with corneal diseases generally live with it there, because they don’t have access to corneal tissue and treatment,” said Dr. Moses, who is an attending physician at St. Barnabas Medical Center. “The goal of this program was to do a number of cornea transplants, and also to teach and interact with local ophthalmologists to see if there could be an opportunity to facilitate a program for them to do these cases on their own in the future.”
Eversight in New Jersey provided six corneas through its charitable services program, which waives the fees associated with corneal transplantation, to support Dr. Moses’ humanitarian effort. Four additional corneas were donated by another supporting eye banking.
“Eversight played a huge role,” Dr. Moses said. “I reached out to discuss what I was doing, hoping to obtain a cornea or two, but Eversight called back within a few days and said they’d be able to guarantee six—which was unbelievable. We would have been really limited in how much we could have done without those corneas.”
When the team arrived at a small clinic to screen patients the first day, hundreds had already gathered, and Dr. Moses helped pick 10 to receive cornea transplants. They were patients with very advanced eye diseases, unable to see anything more than bright lights and a hand waiving in front of their faces. With such poor vision and no money to seek assistance, their last hope was Dr. Moses, his team and the Marian Rose Foundation.
One transplant recipient was a house-ridden, 25-year-old man who needed two people to guide him into the exam room. But just one day after the procedure, he walked by himself into the hospital for a checkup. Two other recipients were so happy after patches were taken off their eyes that they immediately pulled out flip phones and started snapping selfies together. Dr. Moses stood back and watched, thankful for the opportunity to travel around the world and impact lives with the gift of sight.
“Obviously none of it would have been possible without people in the United States choosing to donate their eyes,” Dr. Moses said. “Their gifts are going to live on for a long time, and that’s something we were all really grateful for.”