The Gift of Giving Published on


Garden City SurgiCenter, Garden City, New York

In 2012, the Garden City SurgiCenter sent its medical director, Michael Sable, MD, and surgical technician, Lorena Chinchilla, to Peru to perform eye surgery. The mission, called A Promise to Peru, provides an annual cataract surgical and general medical mission to the remote villages of the Sacred Valley of Peru. Physicians and other health professionals from across the US volunteer their time and services at A Promise to Peru, a mission that includes a mentoring program for the students from the School of Medicine at Stony Brook University in Stony Brook, New York.

“After having the opportunity to directly observe the tremendous amount of advanced cataracts among the people living in remote villages high in the Andes Mountains, I decided to initiate a surgical expedition there for the first time last summer,” says Debra Messina, MD, of Stony Brook University. “Working with the minister of health, local Peruvian physicians and ophthalmologists, we were able to establish an operating room in the midst of an elementary school. Surgical Eye Expeditions (SEE) from California lent us the equipment and instruments to perform the surgeries.”

Nine staff members from the program transported 25 pieces of cargo, essentially an entire operating room (OR) to Peru. “Creating a completely portable operating room, working with foreign government leaders on the national and municipal level, working with fellow ophthalmologists locally, nationally and internationally, all in an effort to give a patient population that will travel 11 hours for their cataract surgery has been an indescribable experience: one that both Dr. Sable and I highly recommend,” Messina says.

Sable says he came away from the mission being the most satisfied he has ever been as a physician. “Several patients stuck in my mind,” he says. “Our very first, a middle-aged man by Peruvian standards, claimed to have poor vision and was evaluated in the preoperative area. His vision was 20/50. Certainly not terrible, and with supplies to operate on just 50 people, we wanted to save for those who needed it most. Turns out this man was only complaining of difficulty reading. After fitting him with reading glasses he cried out with joy ‘Aye, perfecto!’ followed by hugs for everyone in scrubs. Imagine a $2 over-the-counter pair of spectacles and a new man was created.”

Sable is proud of his team for the quality of care they delivered and “mostly for what they helped me achieve as a physician but more as a person,” he says. “Many thanks to my new friends here and in Peru and, of course, mostly to my patients who always teach me how to be a better physician.”

A Promise to Peru is looking for assistance from volunteers for financial support, donations of medical and surgical equipment and medications.