Dr. Amacher’s Medical Mission
Giving back and helping those less fortunate is second nature for Dr. Aaron G. Amacher, a board-certified cataract and LASIK surgeon at Kleiman Evangelista Eye Centers.
When he was a 19-year-old undergraduate student at Brigham Young University in Utah, Dr. Amacher served two years as a missionary in Buenos Aires, Argentina and became fluent in Spanish.
After completing medical school, Dr. Amacher participated in several more missions, as a physician and officer in the U.S. Army. During his 11 years of military service, he traveled to places like Honduras, Bangladesh and Malaysia to provide humanitarian medical aid and ophthalmic care. In Bangladesh, he served as a primary care physician after the country experienced a devastating cyclone.
More recently, Dr. Amacher and his 17-year-old daughter traveled to Belize with a medical team of physicians, surgeons, nurses and nonmedical volunteers as part of Benevolent Missions International (BMI). A nonprofit organization headquartered in Kingwood, Texas, BMI is dedicated to providing ophthalmic care to underserved people around the world.
“BMI has been doing great work for years, and I was privileged to accompany them on their most recent trip,” Dr. Amacher said. “Being able to improve people’s eyesight is hugely rewarding. People’s livelihoods depend on their sight. When their vision is restored, they can support themselves and their families again. “
For more than 25 years, medical teams from Benevolent Missions International have provided vision care services to men, women and children in Africa, Belize, Bolivia, Costa Rica, El Salvador and Fiji. The teams finance their own trips and offer their time at no cost to local people who receive much-needed medical care that would be otherwise unavailable or unaffordable to them.
Treatment is performed at the local clinic or hospital. BMI provides all equipment and supplies, and pharmaceutical and medical supply companies offer additional donations. Patients receive general eye care and surgery as well as glasses donated by the Lions Club.
“Participating in medical missions is very important to me, and I expect to continue doing this every few years,” Dr. Amacher said. “I feel like I’ve been given a skill and been blessed in my life. I have a sense of responsibility to share this skill and do some good in the world. I want to make a difference.”
Dr. Amacher’s mission trips also include an element of adventure. Performing cataract surgery in a third world country is certainly not without its challenges.
“It’s not the advanced standard of care that we expect here in the U.S.,” Dr. Amacher said. “In every surgery, the possibility of serious complication exists. In the U.S., we have multiple specialists and resources to assist patients with complications. That is not the case in many of these lesser-served environments. We don’t have back-up support. We must rely on our training and experience to help people achieve the vision they need.”
It can also be challenging to treat people with very severe, advanced cataracts – a situation that is fairly rare in the U.S., but quite common in countries where there may only be a limited number of ophthalmologists and no eye surgeons trained in cataract surgery.
“The more advanced the cataract and the longer the patient has been vision-impaired, the more difficult and complex the surgery,” Dr. Amacher said.
Yet the results of successful surgery can be miraculous.
“One elderly woman had not been able to see her daughter’s face in 10 years and when we removed her cataracts and restored her vision, she was overjoyed,” Dr. Amacher said. “The people tend to be very humble and have heartfelt gratitude for the services we are providing.”
Each day, about 80 to 100 patients are examined and treated in the clinic, many of whom travel up to 2 days as word gets out that the medical team has arrived. About half those numbers are identified as good candidates for cataract surgery or pterygium surgery, a procedure to remove noncancerous lesions that grow in the eye. In total, Dr. Amacher’s team performed 40 cataract and 40 pterygium surgeries.
What does he enjoy so much about medical missions?
“Besides the rewarding feeling of helping so many people, medical mission trips can expand your world view,” Dr. Amacher said.
“We really see how fortunate we are to live in the U.S., where we take for granted all of the comforts and conveniences we have,” Dr. Amacher said. “The people in third-world countries have nothing in comparison. Yet, they are typically very content and happy. They have worthwhile lives, and they are surrounded by friends and family. It’s a good reminder of what’s really important, and that helps shift my priorities. That’s one of the reasons I brought my daughter with me this time – to help her realize how the world around us lives.”
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