Nearly 2,000 patients seen
The trip to Honduras in February was Stewart's most recent trek abroad. The mission, sponsored in part by contact lens manufacturer Bausch and Lomb, provided eye exams and medical services to residents of a small Honduran town that had no eye doctor. The local hospital had never performed an eye surgery; patients needing surgery had to travel several hundred miles to get care. In the week that Stewart and his colleagues were in Honduras, they saw over 1800 people.
"There is just a huge need for surgical services there," Stewart said. "I performed surgery on several people who were blind in both eyes because of cataracts."
Cataracts result from the clouding of the eye's natural lens as proteins break down with age. There are three kinds of cataracts. The most common are nuclear cataracts, which form in the nucleus of the lens as people age. The second type, cortical, forms in the lends cortex and extends out from the center of the lens. This type is common in diabetics. Subcapsular cataracts, the final kind, begin at the back of the lens and move forward. Diabetes, extreme farsightedness, retinitis pigmentosa or steroid abuse cause this type of cataract.
"Cataracts are the leading cause of blindness in developing countries," Stewart said, "but it's easily fixable."
Since the town in Honduras had no surgical facilities, Stewart and his compatriots had to bring in all of their own equipment and supplies.
"It took us two days to set up and work through all of our equipment problems," Stewart said. "But the people were so patient. They just waited for the chance to be seen."
Stewart said he had been concerned about traveling to the Central American country, given its history of civil strife and violence.
"There's so much conflict," he said. "There's this aura of taking your life in your hands. But it didn't feel that way at all. The people were wonderful -- very friendly and helpful, even those who didn't know we were there on a mission."