As many as 1,000 people who live near the Ethiopian village of Dembi Dolo are blind with little hope of being able to see.
The second most populated nation in Africa is also one of the poorest countries in the world. And for reasons unknown, many natives suffer from debilitating cataracts -- rendering them blind.
And while an agency called the Daughters of Charity opened the Abba Philippos Memorial Eye Clinic in Dembi Dolo, they didn't have anyone who could perform cataract surgeries.
That's until the charity's requests for help found their way to Kennewick ophthalmologist Jim Guzek at the Pacific Cataract and Laser Surgery Institute.
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In January, Guzek and Pasco optometrist Gerald Wodtli arrived at the clinic along with five other Tri-Citians to act as support staff, including Guzek's 14-year-old son, James.
The eye clinic serves an area with a population of about 100,000.
At the time, Guzek was able to help 63 blind Ethiopians see again by removing the cataracts clouding the lenses of their eyes. But he didn't have enough supplies to help 15 others who had been screened for the surgery.
"I never had to leave behind blind people at the gate before that were easily fixable," he said.
So, he's already making plans, with the help of the Tri-Cities Sunrise Rotary Club, to return to the village next month.
On his first trip Guzek focused his surgeries on those who could see light or dark, but otherwise were blind.
One of those he helped was a 30-year-old woman with four children. She'd been blind for six years, but the day after her surgery she was seeing 20-80 -- not ideal, but adequate, Guzek said.
He also helped a 9-year-old girl who had been blind for two years and who could only remember playing with other children when she could see out of one eye.
The next day she had 20-30 vision, he said.
Guzek said it's wonderful to see how a patient's whole demeanor changes when he removes the eye patches the day after surgery.
It's not the first time he's worked overseas. He was employed full-time as an ophthalmologist in Saudi Arabia for three years, Sri Lanka for three years and Ghana for four years before he started working at the Pacific Cataract center.
Now, Guzek and a crew are getting ready for a second trip with supplies to help 100 people regain their sight.
He's already given several presentations about his trip to area Rotary clubs. The Tri-Cities Sunrise Rotary Club, to of which he is a member, is donating about $2,000 toward the trip.
Don Miksch, the chairman of the Sunrise Rotary's international committee, said Guzek's talk brought many Rotarians to tears.
So far, Guzek has raised $20,000 for the mission. Miksch said they still are looking for money to buy an air conditioner for the clinic and to pay for training for the clinic's nurse.
The training will make the efforts in Dembi Dolo sustainable, Guzek said. It will cost $400 a month, or $9,600, for the two-year program.
By helping one adult see, a child also gets the chance to be free, because often children are kept home from school to care for a blind adult, Guzek and Miksch said.
Anyone interested in donating can e-mail Guzek at email@example.com.