Rotary club to help Ethiopian eye nurse get training

By Kristi Pihl, Tri-City HeraldFebruary 20, 2012 

KENNEWICK -- Kennewick ophthalmologist Jim Guzek's vision for the eye care program he has been providing in a poor region of Ethiopia is coming into focus.

Dr. Guzek has made three tours to Dembi Dolo, where he has performed cataract surgeries. And now an eye nurse from that rural clinic has been accepted into a three-year cataract training program.

Support from the Tri-Cities Sunrise Rotary Club will make it possible for that nurse -- named Mitiku -- to attend Jimma University in the nation's capital, Addis Ababa, Guzek said.

The rotary club has pledged to pay for Mitiku's living expenses while he attends the program, Guzek said. Tuition was covered, and the Pasco-based Rotary club has pledged to donate $1,300 a year for three years.

"They want to make a difference in the lives of people overseas," said Guzek, a physician at the Pacific Cataract and Laser Institute's Kennewick office.

Since 2010, the club has raised about $50,000 for the mission and donated medical equipment to the African clinic for cataract surgeries.

"I'm very pleased that so many people have come alongside me to help," he said.

There is only one ophthalmologist in the Dembi Dolo region, and he plans to move to Addis Ababa, Guzek said. That will leave the 2 million people in Dembi Dolo without an ophthalmologist.

It is hoped that Mitiku, when trained, will replace that ophthalmologist, Guzek said.

During his more recent visit, Mitiku assisted with some cataract surgeries, Guzek said.

Ethiopia, the second most populated nation in Africa, also is one of the poorest countries in the world. For reasons unknown, many natives are blinded by cataracts, and no one in Dembi Dolo was qualified to perform cataract surgeries before his first trip, Guzek said.

Next month, he is scheduled to make his fourth trek to Dembi Dolo, and this time, optometrists Bruce Flint and Greg Luehrs are among the Tri-Citians who will join him, Guzek said.

On this trip, Guzek said he plans to not only perform surgeries, but also encourage staff of the Abba Philippos Memorial Eye Clinic, operated by The Daughters of Charity in Dembi Dolo.

And he will spend a few days at Jimma University and help Mitiku in his studies. Guzek said he also will do some corneal transplants. Cornea damage is responsible for as much as 5 percent of blindness in developing countries, Guzek said.

Guzek has completed about 211 cataract surgeries in Dembi Dolo. He plans another six days of surgeries during his upcoming trip.

It's a joy to see this project coming together considering how difficult it is to build up new projects in Africa, Guzek said.

"It's the right people at the right time," he said. "And God wants for this to happen."

To help, send a donation to Tri-Cities Sunrise Rotary charities at P.O. Box 2652, Pasco, WA 99301. Please indicate it is for Dr. Jim Guzek's efforts in Ethiopia.

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