Barbara and Brian Shore funded the operating costs of the eye surgical mission, in memory of Barbara’s mother, Marjorie T Sablow. Through their generosity they enabled us to perform sight-restoring surgeries and truly make a difference in the lives of so many people. Our team transported eye surgical supplies worth more than $160,000 as the result of a grant from Alcon and Surgical Eye Expeditions.  Over 60% of the indigenous population in Chimborazo Province live in extreme poverty.  Over 240,000 people in Ecuador suffer from blindness. The nonprofit organization FIBUSPAM, lead by Paul Martel, Sarah Marjane and David Guacho hosted our team of 16 members for the week.  Their ophthalmologist Dr Carlos Gonzalez and his team screened patients from the surrounding rural areas in the months leading up to our mission. Our surgical team performed 81 eye surgeries, including cataract removals from patients ranging in age from 3 years old to 92 years old as well as several complicated eye surgical procedures.  Here are some of our patients’ stories that will tug at your heart…..

Jose’s Story
In addition to cataract surgeries, we performed repair of eyes that had experienced trauma such is the case of Jose. As a child, he was helping his father fill a tire with air. Unbeknown to the family, the tire gage that he was using was broken and eventually, the tire was so full of air that it exploded. The explosion caused abrasions and bruising to his face. Overtime, the trauma also caused the development of traumatic cataracts in both eyes. As a young adult, Jose was now slowly losing his vision and had nowhere to turn. Jose’s wife heard about FIBUSPAM and the visit for “A Promise to Peru’s” surgical team. She eagerly made an appointment and the traveling doctors where happy to evaluate Jose. Just one day later, one of Jose’s cataracts was removed and his vision has already begun to improve. Because of this surgery Jose will have a chance to restore his vision and his outlook on life. The impacts of this treatment far transcends surgical outcomes as his restored sight will allow him to earn an income for his family, help his children In school, among so many other activates.

Fanny’s Story
Fanny is a bubbly teenager from Riobamba, Ecuador. Unfortunately, Fanny was born with a uni-lateral congenital cataract in her right eye. As a baby, her cataract quickly matured leaving her blind in her right eye. She had perfect vision in her functioning eye and lived a normal and happy life. Although she performed well in school and had a healthy social life, she was embarrassed by her cataract which left her pupil white instead of black. Some of her classmates teased her which was effecting her self-esteem.  Because Fanny was blind for over a decade, cataract surgery may not help her restore her vision.  However, it would surely help her restore her self-confidence. In the opportunity of a life time, “A Promise for Peru” in partnership with FIBUSPAM, performed cataract surgery on Fanny’s right eye. The day after surgery, the outcome couldn’t have been better.  Fanny’s cataract was removed, her eye looked completely normal, and her vision even slightly improved.

Carmen’s Story
In rural Ecuador farming is the backbone of local economy and at the center of indigenous culture.  Fibuspam recently met a women named Carmen who was still very much dedicated to her farm at the age of 78. Carmen suffered from an eye infection some years ago and was subsequently rendered blind in her left eye. She had a cataract in her right eye and began to slowly loose her vision. For the last year she could barely see and was afraid of falling when she left her home. Her husband took over the primary responsibilities in caring for the family’s livestock. Carmen said that she missed her daily routine of tending her animals and desperately wanted to regain her independence.

 A Promise to Peru, Inc. would like to thank the efforts of each of the participants for the donation of their time, their talents and their passion for helping others that are in need.  We were able to accomplish what we did because of each and every team member from A Promise to Peru and FIBUSPAM.  

Below is a daily blog written by one of our participants, Shuhan Wang.  Shuhan is a forth year medical student from StonyBrook Medical School in New York.  Please take a few moments to read her lovely description of our mission….


Day 1, 9/23/18 – Buenos Dias from the Andean highlands of Ecuador!

Buenos dias from the Andean highlands of Ecuador! After more than 24 hours of traveling, our 2018 cataract surgical mission team has finally arrived in Riobamba, a city known locally as the “Sultan of the Andes”. Situated at 2758m above sea level, Riobamba rests in a valley surrounded by five snowcapped volcanos, the nearest one being Chimborazo, which is the highest mountain (6268m peak elevation) in Ecuador.

While enjoying a traditional Ecuadorian lunch complete with chugchucaras, our team learned about the healthcare system in Ecuador, the history and treatment of indigenous peoples, Liberal Revolution and the making of modern Ecuador, the founder and mission of our host organization Fibuspam, a wonderful humanitarian Marjorie Sablow who made possible this mission, and the inception and growth of A Promise to Peru. Perhaps the most memorable meeting for me today was with David Guacho, the executive director of the Fibuspam health clinic in Riobamba.

After David lost his infant son in an understaffed public rural hospital which rendered unsatisfactory care, as a result of an enormous backlog and a pervasive neglect of the indigenous populations, he is convinced that the people of his heritage deserve equal access to quality care so tragedies like his own could be avoided. Since then he has dedicated his life to bringing better healthcare services to his village and the mountain regions by recruiting help from well-trained and highly competent physicians across the country and the world. This is how today our surgical team ended up here in Riobamba to serve 100 carefully pre-screened patients who are in dire need of sight-saving surgeries. In Ecuador, the average price of a cataract surgery is $3000 per eye, but the typical earning of this population is merely $350 a month (and that is if they are healthy and hold a formal job). For many people, this truly is an opportunity of a lifetime! We learned that our patients will be coming from different provinces all over the country to receive care, some as far as requiring a 14-hour bus ride each way.

For the whole afternoon extending into the evening, our team unpacked 1000-lb of surgical supplies, set up our operating rooms for this week, made sure all equipments are up and running, and sterilized all instruments. Although clinic day does not officially start until tomorrow, some patients have already heard the news and showed up today for eye exams.

I met Andrés tonight after he patiently waited for us to set up our clinic. He is a very pleasant 60-year-old dressed in a neat wool poncho and straw hat who suffers from complete blindness in his left eye due to either herpes zoster ophthalmicus leading to corneal ulcer and perforation (with complete lack of light perception) or corneal melting secondary to long-standing rheumatoid arthritis. Andrés also suffers from severe cataract in his right eye, making him practically unable to see. Dr. Krebs, Dr. Sable’s great friend hailing from Michigan who joined our team in Fort Lauderdale, took a careful look under the slit lamp and to my delight concluded that cataract surgery of his right eye would be of great benefit to Andrés! We scheduled him right away for surgery on Friday. Andrés was elated to hear that something indeed can be done to help him see again! He jumped out of the chair and held each of our hands in tremendous gratitude. As much as I would love to savor our experience here in Riobamba, for a moment, Friday could not come soon enough…


Day 2, 9/24/18 – In the Mountain town of Riobamba, Ecuador

My eyes popped open with an inexpressible excitement before my alarm could go off this morning. My phone read 6:10am. Outside our window, the mountain town of Riobamba was just slowly waking up.

It was difficult to fall asleep last night, thinking about what was in store for us this coming week. With the clinic all set up, we are ready to operate today! Our goal is to complete 20 cataract surgeries each day, along with an outreach program to distribute 1000+ prescription reading glasses in the neighboring communities. Nevertheless, to David as well as our surgical team, it is not a quantity that we seek in making a difference, but truly the quality of care that we aim to provide for those in need.

By 7:15am, our bus had arrived at the clinic. Taking a deep breath as I stepped into the crisp morning air, I was greeted by the pleasant scent of the mountains that quickly saturated my lungs. Still, the moment David pushed open the gate to the clinic, I was stunned by yet another uplifting and plainly unforgettable greeting – in the small courtyard there had gathered more than fifty patients and families standing in lines for us to be seen! Fifty pairs of earnest dark eyes simultaneously cast on our faces the instance the door swung open… Everyone held their gaze with such heartfelt sincerity and profound respect. Although those eyes might suffer from poor sight, they spoke to us with so much fortitude, hope, and goodness. Not knowing for how long they had been waiting, we jumped into actions without further ado.

The first day of clinic is always a bit of a challenge before our team could develop a rhythm, settle into our roles, and get used to a workflow in a brand-new environment. Working with an unfamiliar set of tools and equipments that might be considered “obsolete” by developing country standards increased the difficulty. However, we quickly managed to function very well as a team, helping each other out wherever and whenever possible. Overall, we did an amazing job today, completing 19 surgeries non-stop. At around 7:40pm, I walked our last patient out of OR to her family after her blood pressure had normalized and sneaked an extra juice box into her pocket for her long trek home. Afterwards, we all gathered to debrief on what went well and what could be improved about today.

When we walked out of the clinic, a beautiful full moon hung low in the cloudless night sky. I was reminded that today was Mid-Autumn Festival! A traditional Chinese holiday where loved ones reunite to celebrate harmony and unity. I missed home. In particular, I thought about my grandpa, who suffered complications from an unsuccessful cataract surgery in China that left him blind in one eye many years ago. He is the reason why I came to Riobamba to help others who suffer from cataracts. He is the reason why I treat our patients the very way I would want him to have been treated. I found it comforting to know that despite being 10,000 miles apart (literally) and regardless of where we are in this world, I could always look up to admire the same moon that illuminates his sky tonight. I also found it consoling that many of our own patients would soon be able to enjoy the same beautiful view!

While being away from our own families, we had each other here in Riobamba. In the late evening, our team ventured out into town and rewarded ourselves for a full day of hard work with some delicious pizza and entertaining impromptu dancing. Indeed, between bus rides, chifas, scalpels, slit lamps, and overdoses of positive vibes all around the clock, our mission team is transforming into a small family unit that we are all growing to know and genuinely care about.

Before I close my computer and go to bed tonight, I just want to give a special shout-out to our entire nursing staff, OR techs, administrators, and sterilization personnel who barely had a chance to sit down or have lunch today in order to perform what was necessary to care for our patients. And I wish to express my respect to our surgeons whose technical expertise, patience, finesse and grace under pressure I find truly inspiring. Needless to say, I am in complete awe of each of my team member’s diligence and dedication.

Tomorrow morning, those 19 patients we operated on today will return for post-operative checks and we plan to perform 23 more cataract surgeries. I cannot wait to see our patients again soon and find out about how they are doing! Goodnight for now. Hasta mañana!


Day 3, 9/25/18 – In the Mountain town of Riobamba, Ecuador

Hey there! Another day of the mission successfully completed! I decided to share just one of the highlights of my day with you all tonight in an effort to catch up on some sleep. I hope you enjoy some photos in the meantime!

This afternoon, our team had a very special case. A nervous and quiet 16-year-old girl, Maria, came in with what appeared to be a congenital cataract in her right eye. Due to failure of early interventions in life (ideally before age 8, when maximal neuroplasticity could prompt correct visual pathway formation), it is now impossible for us to restore vision in her right eye. However, after our team had discussed the condition with Maria and her parents, we together decided that we would still operate to remove her cataract. Just so that she could live a more normal life, like any other teenage girl. That is, she would be able to smile upon waking up and looking into the mirror each morning without seeing a glaring thick yellowish plaque stuck inside her eye! Just so that she could be seen and treated like a normal young lady. Dr. Sable, our surgical director, took on the task in a heartbeat. Due to years of accumulation of tissue damage, there was significant fibrotic changes that had occurred in Maria’s eye which made the operation much more challenging. Nonetheless, with great patience and dexterous prowess, Dr. Sable was able to cosmetically restore Maria’s right eye to a near natural state. As soon as the case was finished, Dr. Sable took care to ask me to snap a photo of Maria’s new right eye before patching it up so Maria could see immediately post-op how her eye now looked like instead of waiting until tomorrow during patch removal. In the post-recovery room, when Maria was shown the picture of her new right eye, after an initial moment of disbelief, her whole face lit up. She smiled for the first time and exclaimed “Estoy tan feliz!” (“I am so happy!”). The whole team gathered around to congratulate her on how well she did and shared our own joy to see her beautiful smile. Maria’s sister and mother waiting outside came running to her upon discharge and almost bursted into tears when they saw the before and after photos. They hugged us again and again for the great outcome and future outlook for Maria. Looking around the hall, I was met with smiley faces everywhere. It was such a wonderful occasion to witness!


Day 4, 9/26/18 – In the Mountain town of Riobamba, Ecuador

When you love what you do, you never have to work a day in your life. This sentiment rings true for us during this mission. While the days can be more than 12 hours long and we are running on just a few hours of sleep, we feel very much invigorated and enormously satisfied at the clinic.

My favorite part of the day is the post-operative checks early in the morning, when we examine patients the day after their surgery to check on their recovery progress and detect any complications. It is incredible to see our patients doing well and even benefiting from immediate improvements in their visions. Many patients went from being able to only perceive hand motions to actually being able to count fingers or even distinguish and read letters on a screen or paper because of the surgery! Quite a few patients, just one day after surgery, were able to see with a 20/20 or 20/25 (near perfect) vision! I’m glad to say – that’s a better vision than me even, by a margin! It truly is magnificent!

As you can imagine, what infallibly keeps our team going is the unsurpassed gratefulness those patients have for what we do for them and for this community. Their gratitude is evident in their eyes, and when they offer us big long hugs, firm hearty handshakes, countless thanks and genuine blessings; it really is deeply fulfilling.

We had the chance to perform many more interesting cases today. The most memorable patient was a 32-year-old young gentleman, Juan, who sustained an ocular trauma at age 14 from a tire explosion. So for the past 18 years, Juan has suffered from severe cataract which seriously limited his quality of life. Due to the extent of his injury (Juan also had phacodonesis with partial lens subluxation due to damaged zonules), there were very high risks associated with his operation. Our three surgeons convened to strategize and considered potentially delaying the surgery until next year (our next mission) when we could return with more advanced equipment to help restore his vision while significantly minimizing his risks of complications. Upon hearing the option that we might not operate today due to missing the optimal tools for his complex condition, Juan could not hold back his tears. This strong young man broke down in front of all of us because he had been so looking forward to this day to finally regain his vision. For a minute, the room was filled with stifling silence and sadness. We thought perhaps we could order supplies right away from the US to have them shipped hopefully by the weekend, in time to still help him during this mission. However, it was not a solution good enough for us. I handed Juan a tissue, but his tears had already melted our hearts. Drs. Sable and Appel, unwilling to give up, thought again long and hard about an alternative. Dr. Krebs also felt strongly about pushing the boundaries of challenging surgical techniques and advocated for providing Juan with a maximum chance at a better vision today. After much consideration, our team had a plan to help Juan proceed with surgery with carefully prepared risk controls and contingency management. Juan and his whole family were thrilled by the decision. They could not be more thankful. Fortunately, the operation went extremely well! The family went around the room to hug us, thanking us again and again. I cannot wait to see Juan tomorrow at post-op check tomorrow!

Today, we also helped a 3-year-old girl who had congenital cataracts which with our surgical intervention and a period of careful patching with correct lens use to prevent amblyopia can have an excellent prognosis that would benefit her for the rest of her life. There was also a wonderfully bright 12-year-old with bilateral uveitic cataracts that resulted in posterior synechia, where her iris got stuck onto the lens of her eye causing a misshaped, almost nonexistent pupil. We were able to create a pupil that allows her to see. We also had 92-year-old patient who lived on the mountaintop without shoes who was nearly blind. We helped her remove her dense cataract, which had gradually made her life more difficult and reclusive over the past years. After her recovery, she would be able to get back to being more active and independent, and enjoy seeing the faces of her children and playing with her grandchildren once again. At the PACU area (post anesthesia recovery), she kept asking me over and over… “Quién es el doctor que me operó?” (Who is the doctor that operated on me?) “Puedes escribir su nombre por favor?” (Could you please write down his name?) “De dónde son?” (Where are you from?) I answered her each time with a bigger smile.

Perhaps our patients think our team was the only group providing positive values in this community, but they may not realize the positive impressions they have left in our mind. It is so beautiful to watch the heartwarming interactions between our patients and their families as they were there fully present for each other, holding each other close, and helping facilitate every step with great acts of love. It deeply moves us in a way that helps us render the best care for them in return.

By Wednesday night, we had completed 53 cataract surgeries. It is so rewarding to think that these are not just 53 lives that we have touched, but also their family members’ lives in which we have made a real impact.

And it’s always important to remember that these impacts we made would not have been possible without the help of so many countless other individuals…

May they all be blessed.


Day 5, 9/27/18 – In the Mountain town of Riobamba, Ecuador

Hey everyone! Today, we helped remove cataracts for 21 more patients and distribute 150 eye glasses in an abandoned school thirty minutes outside of Riobamba! I met two interesting young cousins in their early 40s, Jose and Carlos, who have retinitis pigmentosa (RP), a genetic condition that results in progressive loss of peripheral vision and night vision. Jose and Carlos presented with cataracts which affected their central visions. Sadly, cataract combined with RP means that their sight was steadily disappearing! Carlos suffered from sharp pain in his eye for 15 years with worsening blurry vision before he could finally find help and learn about his conditions. Our operations today would allow both cousins to regain some of their central visions and hopefully improve their daily life, independence, and functionality to be able to provide for their families again! Just in case you were wondering, our post-operative patients have been doing very very well! I am so happy for the progress they are making.

By the way, I have learned a new favorite term of endearment. It’s “doctorita”! Some of our patients refer to me as such, and I really like it because it makes me feel very familiar and personable to them! I have also been told that people are actually following these blog posts and like what they are seeing! Thank you so much for your continued interest and attention. It is really my honor to bring some of our stories from Ecuador to everyone. If you have any feedback, comments, or questions, please do not hesitate to get in touch! I gladly welcome all of them and would love to share more. Thank you again!

On a side note, due to the many time-consuming patient records problems that we encounter during the days, I have come to realize the usefulness of electronic medical record (EMR) systems in developing country settings and non-profit service platforms. Back in the United States, many medical professionals constantly complain about minor details or glitches regarding the EMRs, but we take for granted the many powerful tools of data capture, analysis, and even crucial safety measures they provide clinicians and neglect the importance of consolidating complex healthcare records methodically. Our Promise to Peru missions have created opportunities for a vast amount of clinical data that could be studied and analyzed to extract helpful clinical information. Looking forward, I would really love to help develop an easy-to-implement, mobile EMR system for medical/surgical missions in less resourceful places around the world. Just something I thought about before heading to sleep and begin dreaming about papa fritas in Spanish! Enjoy mas fotos por el momento, por favor (please enjoy more photos for now)!


Day 6, 9/28/18 – Our last day at the clinic in Riobamba, Ecuador

This is a hard post to write because today is our last day at the clinic in Riobamba. Over the span of this week, our team completed over 600 appointments at the ophthalmologic office, performed cataract surgeries for 92 patients in the OR, initiated regular post-operative follow-ups, distributed hundreds of glasses in the nearby communities, and shared many beautiful moments. Tonight the staff at Fibuspam and the board members of A Promise to Peru, Inc. organized a thank you dinner for us at an enchanting 300-year-old hacienda where El Libertador, Simon Bolivar once stayed! David, the director of Fibuspam Riobamba, gave us his most heartfelt thank you on behalf of his people. The organization presented each one of us with a handmade Fibuspam poncho in pure white, symbolizing the virtuous morals and the luminosity of medicine. “With this poncho, I salute you as a member of this community.” David proclaimed as he donned us with this precious gift of bond.

As David correctly pointed out, this mission on many levels signifies the unity of two countries, where total strangers from two different worlds come together to work towards a common goal to improve the lives of other people. Within hours of meeting, we were able to be of service to one another and now just look at what we have been able to accomplish this week! Our mission has touched lives in more ways than we could have imagined!

Dr. Sable, an ingenious surgeon, who has been dubbed “el artista” (the Artist) by everyone in town also expressed his gratitude towards this community who had welcomed us as their own. Dr. Sable believes that as a result of this mission, he is able to become a much better doctor, teacher, and friend. Dr. Messina, the mastermind behind A Promise to Peru, an altruistic leader and physician who envisioned many missions like this, said she was swept away by the needs present in this region and the hospitality we had received here. She is wholeheartedly committed to continuing her vision on health to come back in the future. Our amazing tour guide Wilson and wonderful host coordinator Sarah also shared their thoughts. “The mountains are our passions.”, they said with deep conviction. And the light in their eyes that flickered as they talked about the poverty that still exists and what remains to be done in these mountain towns convey their first-hand understanding and determination for what they will always aim to accomplish here. Dr. Gonzales, the kind-hearted, high-spirited ophthalmologist from Nicaragua who has been dedicating his service to this community also added that although he was not from this region, this is now his home, his heart. Drs. Appel, Krebs, Ng, Gang, Cathy, Ken, Ana, Frank, Sandra, Shashi, Pat, and Robin were all valued and recognized for their individual service and contribution to this community. Personally, I was deeply touched to hear that everyone appreciated the way I was treating and caring for our patients and their families and cannot wait for the day when I officially become a doctor! “We are coming to your graduation!”, they shouted. I could not have felt more love from this amazing family that we have come to build over this trip. ”Thank you from my heart to you”, we all bowed and said to each other in unison.

It is with a heavy heart we bid goodbye to these mountains and the perseverant indigenous people. By the time our bus departed, the valley was quiet asleep with resonant murmurs of our hearts. Until we meet again, Riobamba!

Until we can all see clearly the sun shine its radiant rays through the clouds covering your beautiful great plain.  With our eyes, and with your very own.