Member to Member: Giving Back

In the Caribbean’s Windward Islands lies the country of Grenada. Our medical mission team recently returned from another sojourn there, and looking back I am reminded of how it all began with scuba diving.

Four years ago I was in Grenada on a dive trip. We all know that bittersweet feeling of the last day, the final dive, the farewell. As I was packing up, I looked for a souvenir and grabbed a local newspaper. On its cover was a photograph of Santa Claus, and sitting on Santa’s knee was a boy about two years old. The boy had severely crossed eyes. I knew the picture was supposed to be cute, but I also realized a grave truth: If this child did not have the necessary eye muscle surgery, he could be at risk for going blind in one eye from a condition known as amblyopia.

Curious, I remarked to the hotel receptionist, “Back in the States I do surgery to straighten crossed eyes. Who does that here?” She gazed at me flatly, “No one.” I wasn’t sure what she meant. “You mean, no one here on this island? If the child goes to a larger island, can he see an eye doctor?” She seemed a bit impatient. “No, miss. We don’t have. Maybe if he rich, he fly to Miami. We have no doctor to do surgery on children’s eyes here.” I was stunned. When I got back home I did some research, and sure enough she was right.

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How could I let the people of an island I love very much serve me their food, clean my room, maintain my hotel grounds and drive me from place to place while I, with the skills to help them, did nothing in exchange? 

An ophthalmologist performs an eye test in Grenada.

I made a few phone calls and sent some letters. After months of searching for a way to help, I discovered a team of eye surgeons in New York led by an ophthalmologist named Orazio Giliberti, M.D. Dr. Giliberti had ties to the St. George’s University School of Medicine in Grenada, and he was willing to help. The following year I returned to the island, and in addition to my scuba gear I brought a fully equipped team of trained medical and surgical assistants. With the generous support of St. George’s University, our team was able to examine the eyes of more than 100 children. We performed eye muscle surgeries in the local general hospital and were televised as the first pediatric eye surgeons in the country. 

A few years have passed, and today we are a committed team of more than 20 ophthalmologists who cover all subspecialities. Each month the people of Grenada receive eye surgery for cataracts, glaucoma, corneal diseases, eyelid abnormalities and many other conditions from one of our volunteer ophthalmologists. Winston Churchill once said, “We make a living from what we get, but we make a life from what we give.” Although I have never had the chance to meet that boy who sat on Santa’s knee in the newspaper photograph, I know that my Christmas joy comes directly from the smiles of Grenadian children I have come to know because of a scuba diving trip.

© Alert Diver — Q1 2017