History of World Service
Department of Ophthalmology
Since 1962, the Department of Ophthalmology at Loyola University Medical Center has reached around the world to bring sight to those in great need. During a vacation trip, Ophthalmology Chairman Dr. James McDonald was touched by the plight of the people of Haiti, where eyecare was virtually nonexistent. In 1962, together with colleagues Dr. Arthur Light and Dr. Thomas Stamm, he founded the organization known as FOCUS (Foreign Ophthalmological Care from the United States). The first FOCUS volunteers served in Haiti and later in Guatemala. FOCUS then concentrated its efforts for more than 21 years at the Mercy Hospital Eye Center in Abak, Nigeria, about nine hours by car from Lagos. Endorsed by the Chicago Ophthalmological Society, FOCUS was headquartered at Loyola University’s Stritch School of Medicine under Dr. McDonald’s direction until his retirement in 1997. The organization is now under the direction of Dr. Marilyn Miller at the University of Illinois Eye and Ear Infirmary in Chicago.
As department chair from 1971 to 1989, Dr. McDonald made service overseas a departmental priority. His work through FOCUS provided vital medical and surgical ophthalmic services and support in areas of extreme need by recruiting volunteer physicians, collecting donated medical supplies, and raising money to fund its work. His leadership and passion for overseas endeavors were carried forward in the work of other renowned faculty throughout the past 46 years.
Former faculty member and retinal specialist Dr. Richard Gieser has provided eyecare in such far-flung locations as Mongolia, China and Nepal. He continues to live the mission through his recent work in the Sudan teaching new techniques to local vitreo-retinal surgeons and residents. While he has retired from practice at Loyola, he continues to inspire new residents to give of themselves in outreach through the Richard Gieser MD World Service Lecture endowment, which is now part of our annual Loyola Ophthalmology Resident-Alumni Day Conference. In addition to the keynote speaker, this unique forum invites speakers from our current resident classes as well as alumni and community ophthalmologists to share their medical mission experiences. Faculty and guest lecturers also present research and data on the need for eyecare in remote regions of the world. The inaugural Richard Gieser, MD lecture was presented on June 13, 2008 by May Khadem, MD, assistant professor of clinical ophthalmology at the Feinberg School of Medicine or Northwestern University and Executive Director of Health for Humanity, who presented the lecture “The Global Challenge of Blindness.”
In 1997, Dr. McDonald, and in 2002, Dr. Gieser were presented with the Humanitarian Award of the American Academy of Ophthalmology in recognition of their many years of medical service throughout the world.
With an eye toward our FOCUS roots, we recently have directed our efforts toward fostering a new relationship with ophthalmology in the central American country of Guatemala. Beginning in 2006, senior residents have traveled to Guatemala to offer ophthalmological services in remote underserved villages and towns including Flores, San Benito, Dolores, Santa Rita, Coban, Guatemala City, Joyabaj, Chichicastenango and the Peton region. Listening to the words of the residents upon their return, the common experience was an overwhelming sense of the strength of the Guatemalan people and the gratitude expressed by them for the medical care our residents provided. On reflection, the residents were grateful for the opportunity to learn and share in international care. All professed the desire to return to mission work.
The commitment to living the mission continues. Formalization of the Guatemalan rotation is in the planning phase. When instituted; this unique training experience will offer our residents the opportunity to work hand in hand with Guatemalan residents and attendings. While the process offers many challenges, the potential for a sustainable program benefiting needy populations and inspiring international service continues to be a worthy goal of the department’s missions program.
Eileen Gable, OD
Assistant Professor and Director, Foreign Missions Program
Department of Ophthalmology
Loyola University Medical Center