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Last month, on October 10th we celebrated World Sight Day, and the doctors at Visualiza, our Guatemala City eye clinic, and the Vincent Pescatore clinic in El Peten, performed free cataract surgeries on 206 patients. At 6:00a.m. the line outside the Guatemala City clinic had already wrapped around the block as impoverished residents sought answers to their declining vision.b2ap3_thumbnail_World-Sight-Day-Line.jpg

Each year on World Sight Day, which falls on the second Thursday of October, Visualiza closes the doors of its private clinics and all personnel report directly to the social service clinics. At 6:00a.m., the doctors scan the lines of people awaiting care to identify individuals who qualify to receive free surgery to immediately remove their cataracts. The day has a marked impact as many patients who enter the clinic have been blind or years, and leave the clinic with renewed sight.

This is Maria Teresa and Jose Luis Alvizurez Castro and their daughter Aura who was born with a mental handicap. They have been married for 52 years and wen Aura was born they were told that she 

b2ap3_thumbnail_IMG_3804.JPGwas special, that she would never be able to read or write, and that she would not live a normal life like the rest of us. From that moment on, they have cared for and loved her with all of their hearts, never leaving her side.

Maria Teresa and Jose Luis live a simple life. Maria Teresa works selling food in a small food stand while also taking care of Aura. Jose Luis worked doing odd jobs, repairing shoes or labor in construction. He says “I did whatever I could find to raise money for my family.” Jobs for Jose Luis became fewer and fewer as his eyesight began to decline. People stopped hiring him because the quality of his work was deteriorating due to his lack of vision. Around the same time, Maria Teresa was also finding it difficult to complete her tasks at home; her sight seemed to be dimming. She told us that each year it was becoming harder to care for her daughter Aura, her kitchen, and last but not least her husband.

b2ap3_thumbnail_IMG_3821.JPGOn World Site Day 2013, the family came to the Visualiza Eye Clinic looking for help. They both had mature cataracts and were operated on the same day. Maria Teresa was operated first. As her surgery finished and she was leaving the operating room, Dr. Mariano could sense that she did not want to leave. He told her again that her surgery went very well and all would be fine. She then told him that the man on the table in front of him was her husband and she was very nervous for him. He asked if she would like to stay and hold his hand during the surgery. Her answer was immediate. She stayed through the whole surgery and held his hand.

 Now almost one month later their vision is restored and they are back on with their lives.b2ap3_thumbnail__MG_5003.jpg

What happens to the other hundreds of people who have patiently awaited care, but who are found to
have afflictions other than cataracts? On this day, indigent Guatemalans who suffer vision impairment are
 treated at a much reduced cost.

We owe the warmest of gratitude to our generous Guatemalan eye surgeons, Drs. Mariano and Nico Yee, and Dr. Angel Chuy who performed 206 surgeries non-stop on October 10 from 6:15a.m. until 8:30p.m., and optometrist Kimberly Weidman-Yee. Their work changes lives.

 

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 I once was lost, but now I'm found

Was blind, but now I see.

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Brian Reynolds is an endurance hiker and runner. He's hiked the Grand Canyon, Zion National Park, Yosemite National Park and the Inca Trail in Peru. Brian climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro with Climb for Sight this summer. He's also a bilateral below the knee amputee. That's right, Brian is missing both of his legs and has used prosthetics since the age of 4 when he lost his legs to a rare complication of meningitis.

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Fortunately for Brian and the many other athletic individuals who use prosthetics, there have been tremendous advancements in recent years in prosthetic technology to provide more durable and widely functioning equipment for amputees. In addition to his modern prosthetics Brian has ambition, determination, athletic training and experience which contributed to his successful summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro in August.

Brian is a dedicated participant in many charity fundraisers and says that he most enjoys benefiting small charities that make big impacts. Like all climbers with Climb for Sight who raise the requisite $10,000 in exchange for their trip being cost-free, the impact of Brian's climb is extraordinary. Brian's funds were used exclusively to provide 32 children who are treated at b2ap3_thumbnail_Picture-134.jpgour clinics in Guatemala, Nicaragua, Haiti, and at a partner clinic in Tanzania, with sight-saving surgeries. Without the surgeries, those children faced the possibility of a life without sight due to treatable conditions. One such case is this little girl (photo right) from a rural village in Guatemala. She has a congenital cataract in her right eye - the result of trauma to the eye from a stick that entered her eye while she was climbing a tree to pick oranges. Had she not received surgery to remove the cataract, she would never see out of that eye.

Brian raised the money for his trip mostly through standing outside of grocery stores and the occasional liquor store collecting donations. “Canning works for me. I just stand there in shorts and it naturally attracts people... it's kind of a cheat,” says Brian with a laugh.

The fact that Brian uses prosthetics does not seem to be for him a hinderance to his performance. In fact, Brian outpaced most climbers, summiting the volcano in 4 days rather than the 5 it takes most climbers to reach the peak on the Marangu route, which is the most 

popular route on the mountain. Brian opted to bypass the acclimatization day, feeling he was moving at a fast enough clip, and was not being effected strongly by the altitude. This did, however, give him an additional day to descend the mountain.

I'm faster going uphill than downhill,” says Brian. “I lack the ankle motion. So I can move uphill pretty fast as most people move faster downhill. 

While many climbers feel that the support and companionship of fellow hikers is an essential component to success on the mountain, Brian feels that having hiked solo was important for him. It allowed him the flexibility to go faster when he felt like pushing on and taking his time on the descent. He recommends that if climbers choose to climb in numbers, it would be preferable that all are in similar athletic shape, and know how their bodies react to altitude.

When asked about the day he summited the mountain, I can feel the smile on Brian's face through the speaker of my computer. He recalls being woken at 10:30 in the evening by his guide and peering out the window of his hut at the bobbing line of headlamp lights of fellow climbers making their way up the slope. In his characteristic swiftness, Brian passed the groups of hikers, making his summit at 3:30a.m. That's a whole 4 hours earlier than the proposed arrival time.

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Brian doesn't recommend arriving that early. “You have to sit in the cold and wait for the sunrise,” he said. “I don't even think it was ten degrees, and the wind was pretty strong. I had heating packs, glove liners and zero degree mittens, and my hands were still freezing.”

So the moral of that story might be: Hike your own hike – as many of the hikers of the Appalachian Trail would advise. Or if you prefer, as the Tanzanian phrase goes: “Pole pole,” or “slowly, slowly,” in Kiswahili.

The funniest tale from Brian's Kilimanjaro trip?

I was running down the mountain, not knowing that my shoes were filling with gravel,” describes Brian. “I hit one of the switchbacks... and my feet just stuck to the trail and I kept going. My two prosthetics remained standing upright on the trail, and I landed ten feet further down.

Other than stomach cramps from a violent fit of laughter, Brian escaped the incident unscathed and hopes to track down a photo of the moment.

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Father Joe Coffey has a unique relationship to Mt. Kilimanjaro. He was a participant in the pilot trip for Climb for Sight in 2000. They set the precedent; they were an 18 person coalition to reach the peak with the mission of providing sight-saving surgeries to indigent children. And as if one time wasn't enough, he did it again, several years later. But Fr. Joe did not make it to the top of “Kili” the second time around. I had the chance to talk with him about his trips, and he expressed in an honest and emotion-filled tone how his two ascents differed, and he offers some valuable advice to future climbers that might save them from making some of the same mistakes he did.

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Summiting Mt. Kilimanjaro has been on your bucket list of things to do for years. You know the routes. You have thought about how you would kick yourself into shape. And you've decided to couple your adventure with a meaningful cause.

But there's that one little detail: fundraising. For many, especially for those who have never worked on a serious fundraising project before, coming up with the money to participate can seem like a more ferocious beast than the lions of the Serengeti! 

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Brad Hart (who is nearly blind from retinitis pigments), with his brother Brian Hart and childhood friend, Kirk Parry, helped raise $40,000 by participating Climb for Sight trip. Read about his experience in this article written by Janice Crompton for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

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