The lens of the human eye possesses a unique attribute, transparency. As visible light passes through the lens, the rays are bent and focused onto the retina’s photoreceptors which transmit signals to the brain which we interpret as sight. Over the course of a person’s life, the lens proteins become oxidized and this organ loses its clarity, causing light to be scattered and blocked. As the lens becomes opaque, a person’s visual acuity diminishes and with time can be lost completely.
Cataract surgery is a procedure by which we remove this cloudy lens and replace it with a clear artificial implant. While removing cataracts has been performed for centuries, modern day eye surgery began in New York City nearly 50 years ago. The technique of making extremely small incisions and emulsifying the lens with ultrasound is one of the most significant advancements in any surgical field. Patients who once had to be admitted to the hospital for weeks for this invasive procedure can now have this performed in an ambulatory setting with minimal anesthesia and recover sight nearly immediately. Because of the risk of complications is low, patients undergo surgery at the first signs of visual compromise and return to their usual daily life within days.
In the developing world, however, where these advanced technologies do not exist and where access to care is limited, patients are going blind. The World Health Organization estimates that 250 million people are visually impaired and approximately 40 million people are blind, defined as being unable to walk unassisted. In the past, attention focused on infectious diseases such as river blindness and trachoma as the cause of eye problems in the developing world, but currently it is estimated that 75% of blindness is due to lack of glasses and the formation of cataracts. As ophthalmologists, we are aware that this is a curable and avoidable problem.
To address the problem of curable blindness worldwide through the following methods:
- Surgical education
- Clinical support for the development of sustainable eye care systems
- Global advocacy through humanitarian outreach
- Collaborative research to address clinical needs in diverse patient populations
- Since 2010, Dr. Park has been performing humanitarian surgical missions to the rural town of Nuevo Progreso, Guatemala through the Hospital de la Familia Foundation. She organizes teams of doctors, nurses, technicians, medical students, residents and fellows who accompany her on these bi-annual week long missions during which approximately 400 patients will be examined and approximately 100 patients will undergo sight-saving surgery. During the trip, Dr. Park works with Dr. Jose Argueta, the Guatemalan ophthalmologist who is director of the eye clinic at this hospital, providing surgical teaching for him and his staff.
- Since 2013, Dr. Park has been traveling to Africa to teach local eye surgeons in collaboration with the international NGO, Vision Care. She is an instructor for their Phaco Training Course (PTC), an eight-month surgical teaching program organized in collaboration with the Ophthalmological Society of Ethiopia. Each year, two Ethiopian surgeons are selected by their peers to participate in this step-wise didactic and hands-on program which is combined with humanitarian surgical eye camps four times during the year. At the conclusion, the local doctors receive certification of their phaco surgical skills.
- In 2018, Dr. Park began sponsoring medical students to travel to Ras Desta Hospital in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, where she has developed a relationship with local providers in their eye clinic. Vision Care Ethiopia has initiated a school screening program, bringing teams of volunteers to every elementary school in Addis Ababa to perform basic vision tests and identify those who need glasses or referral for more complex medical evaluations. To date, 20,000 school children have been screened, and the clinical results of Dr. Park’s findings is being submitted as a research abstract to the World Ophthalmology Congress 2020, which will be held in Cape Town, Africa.
- During her work both in Latin America and Africa, Dr. Park has noted a high incidence of pseudoexfoliation syndrome, a disease which is characterized by deposition of amyloid material on the lens capsule. While this has been associated with pseudoexfoliative glaucoma, Dr. Park’s main interest lies in cataract surgical outcomes in these patients who demonstrate fragile capsular support. She is interested in utilizing artificial intelligence to predict complications and surgical outcomes in these patients undergoing cataract surgery.
Areas of Focus
Vision and Hearing