'Miracles under the mango tree': Fargo-based eye surgery team tasked with life-changing mission in Haiti

HAITI -- A lot of people include "world travel" as an item on a bucket list.There's a good chance Haiti is not on the "must go to" list.Recently, 25 members of a Fargo based eye surgery team went to Haiti for some life-changing volunteer work.Bli...

HAITI - A lot of people include "world travel" as an item on a bucket list.

There's a good chance Haiti is not on the "must go to" list.

Recently, 25 members of a Fargo based eye surgery team went to Haiti for some life-changing volunteer work.

Blindness and the need for eye care there overwhelmed the team.

In the mountains of northern Haiti, the mornings can take your breath away, but as the impoverished nation awakens, a reminder of reality.

The basic needs for daily living and survival are lacking for so many here.

In the hospital compound in Pignon, Haiti, more than 300 people are lining up on the first day of the visit from Dr. Lance Bergstrom and the Fargo Eye Team.

The patients have been here since 4:00 a.m.

Some have devastating glaucoma, not caught early enough, others have blinding cataracts that will get fixed.

There are troubling cases, where disease has progressed without medical care.

61-year old Merimene came from hours away, hoping the medical team could help her see.

"She has had a tumor growing in her sinus, it looks like, for about a year, and it's causing her eye to bulge," says Dr. Bergstrom "So, she is going to need surgery in the United States."

Some of the tough cases will be disappointing for all.

"So, he has glaucoma," Dr. Bergstrom explains to a translator. "He has nerve damage. It is not cataracts."

"No surgery?" asks the translator.

"If we got it early, but it is too late now, he's already lost his vision," says Dr. Bergstrom. "If we could have gotten him last year or the year before, yes, we could have helped him out."

Many others, like Bernadette, will get help.

A mother of eight, cataracts have robbed her of eyesight, yet a 12 minute surgery from Bergstrom and the team will change everything.

"Independence, that's the big thing. Right now, she has to have somebody lead her around the house. Just light and dark, for vision, so hopefully tomorrow she'll be able to walk around unaccompanied," says Dr. Bergstrom.

Kevin: "What's the first thing she wants to see when she goes home and has her sight back?"

Bernadette (translator): "I would like to see my husband, my children, my chickens, my goats, I would like to see all of them."

Like many days, cataract surgery goes into the night.

"I bet we'll do 25 cases today, but they're not like normal cases you'd see in Fargo. These are your nightmare cataracts," says Dr. Bergstrom. "This one broke apart, you don't see those in Fargo, I can tell you that. Just the maturity of it, people at home would have gotten this done 15-20 years ago. It's just timing, and the sunlight down here makes things a lot more dense, does a lot more damage to the eye than up north."

Patients who wait for care in the morning will sleep outside overnight.

"We will just go down the line and take off their patches, then we'll move them into clinic," says Dr. Bergstrom.

Come morning, the patients who had the cataracts removed wait to have their patches taken off. The chance to see again.

Bernadette gets good news.

"Looks great, you'll be able to see your chickens now," says Dr. Bergstrom.

She leaves the village, a life changed.

"We are seeing patients that have been legally blind for 10, 15, 20 years frequently. That's why it's such a 'wow' experience," says Dr. Bergstrom. "Even though, in the culture here, people are kind of mellow, I think they're just kind of overwhelmed, but certainly it makes a huge impact in their lives."

Watch for Part 2 of "Miracles Under the Mango Tree" Tuesday, May 15, at 10 p.m. on WDAY and WDAZ.



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