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Multiplying the Impact of a Medical Mission

There is almost nothing that Dr. Lee Wan loves to do more than perform sight-restoring eye surgery. Another second love is the satisfaction he derives from teaching other doctors the most advanced techniques and technology of his profession.

In several medical missions to southeast Asia, Dr. Wan, Coastal Eye’s Medical Director, has done both. But on his more recent trips, he has emphasized the teaching — for a very good reason. Young doctors in these underprivileged countries do not have as much access to formal ophthalmology training residencies that more medically advanced countries offer.

Second journey to Cambodia

In late 2017, he journeyed for the second time to Phnom Penh, Cambodia for a week of teaching at the Children’s Surgical Centre, a charity hospital that has expanded to serve patients of all ages, who don’t have access to other medical services. In 2016, Dr. Wan led a teaching mission to the same hospital.

In many surgical missions, the doctors perform as many surgeries as they can themselves, but the benefit is limited to those patients who can be done in the limited amount of time. But by focusing on teaching these young doctors, Dr. Wan was able to leverage his surgical and teaching skills to benefit countless patients who would be cared for by these doctors for years to come.

“I really enjoyed the experience and found it rewarding, especially in a place like this,” reflects Dr. Wan. “These young doctors are hungry to learn, yet there are few formal training opportunities. There’s such a need for ophthalmologists to care for a large, medically needy population. These doctors will be in practice for many more years, and hopefully use these new skills throughout their careers. Even more, I hope they will train others as they go along.”

Dr. Wan’s 2017 mission was again under the auspices of Surgical Eye Expeditions (SEE), a nonprofit based in Santa Barbara, which for many years has coordinated surgical missions to the neediest of countries around the world. Participating eye surgeons volunteer their time and pay their own travel expenses and bring with them much-needed surgical supplies.

This was Dr. Wan’s fourth mission with SEE, including two to Vietnam and the 2016 visit to Cambodia. SEE has the important contacts in host countries and facilitates donations of medical equipment and supplies from U.S. suppliers.

His recent trip to Phnom Penh also provided a boost in surgical technology for the hospital. The ophthalmology department had recently obtained two newer phacoemulsification machines. (Phacoemulsification is the advanced microinvasive cataract surgery technique that is the standard in the U.S., but difficult to implement in third world countries.

The challenge was to get the machines operational. John Charky, a representative from Alcon Surgical, which manufactures the machines, was kind enough to volunteer to accompany Dr. Wan on the mission. Charky got the machines set up, training the staff in programming and trouble-shooting, and supported Dr. Wan’s teaching efforts.

Dr. Wan’s daughter joins him on the team

Dr. Wan divided his time between the operating room where he taught the cataract surgical skills he has learned over a lifetime of practice; and the clinic, where he instructed the young doctors in laser procedures and medical eye care.

Also accompanying Dr. Wan was his daughter, Lisha, who was completing her clinical training in optometry. Lisha helped Dr. Wan in the clinic, doing testing, screening and evaluation of patients. The hospital had recently also obtained an Optical Coherence Tomographer, an advanced imaging device that enables doctors to examine the back of the eye in microscopic detail, but the local doctors and staff were not yet skilled in using it effectively. Lisha, who is experienced using the OCT, was able train them.

The final day of his 2017 medical mission happened to be Dr. Wan’s 60th birthday. The doctors and staff put together a surprise party for him with abundant local delicacies. It was truly a surprise for Dr. Wan, who was delighted.

On this last visit to Cambodia, Dr. Wan got a chance to talk with some of the surgeons he had trained in 2016. They expressed their gratitude to him. “They were already working in productive medical practices,” says Dr. Wan. “It was good to see them doing that.”

Dr. Wan is keeping all that in mind as he contemplates going on future medical missions. Meanwhile, he continues his decades-long commitment to medical education locally, teaching advanced cataract surgery techniques several times a year to young ophthalmology residents at USC’s Roski Eye Institute.

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