Doctor offers gift of sight in city of tea By Kazuo Nagata
-Yomiuri Shimbun Correspondent-
NEW DELHI- Every year in late autumn, ophthalmologist Shin Yoneya visits a hospital in Darjeeling, India, where he performs cataract operations on local patients.
Yoneya started offering free treatment for the condition in the northeastern Indian city, famous for its tea production, in 2003. Since then his Darjeeling Cataract Camp has performed operations on 102 patients.
The 59-year-old ophthalmology professor from Saitama Medical University said he developed an interest in Indian culture after he traveled the country, and was moved by its richness and depth.
Photo: Toshiaki Shimizu
Deciding that he wanted to give something back to the country while he was still professionally active, Yoneya started the program with a friend involved in importing tea. It is unusual for an experienced doctor who is still practicing to work as a medical volunteer in a developing country - most volunteers are either much younger or retired.
Most of the patients attending the camp are suffering from severe cataracts, in which the lens of the eye becomes cloudy, then brown, and eventually as hard as stone.
Yoneya typically spends twice as long on each operation as he would in Japan carefully breaking up the clouds on the lens with ultrasound waves until late into the night.
On one occasion Yoneya had to treat an elderly patient who had been carried to the camp by a hospital worker from deep in the mountains where cars are a rarity.
Another time, he had to persuade a son to allow his mother to receive treatment after the son expressed concern that his mother would go blind if the operation failed.
Holding a scarf given to him by one of his Indian patients as a token of their gratitude, Yoneya reminisced about the various human dramas played out at the camp year after year.
He believes that as an ophthalmologist working to improve people's eyesight he can improve people's quality of life, pointing out that the average person obtains 70 percent of the information they process through their eyes.
Before leaving Darjeeling after his latest trip there he told the local people that he intends to keep coming back as long as he is able.