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    Eye surgery in the outback

    By Dr Gavin Stringfellow

    I was recently invited by the Fred Hollows Foundation to take part in an intensive week of eye surgery for the indigenous community in Alice Springs and the surrounding remote communities.  There is only one full-time ophthalmologist in Alice Springs, Dr Tim Henderson, who does amazing work servicing a population of 60,000 people spread over a huge area of the Northern Territory and even into parts of SA and WA.

    FredTo give Dr Henderson some much needed support, the Fred Hollows Foundation organises and funds an “Eye Blitz” week twice yearly.  These blitz weeks focus on indigenous patients from remote communities, and a surgeon from the city is invited to help with the surgical workload.  This was the 10th such blitz, and the total number of operations performed now exceeds 500.

    The surgery was challenging to say the least, with mature white cataracts the most common problem needing surgery, but the results were well worth the effort.  Many patients arrived in Alice Springs with vision poor enough to be classified legally blind, and yet returned home a few days later with clear vision once again and a new lease on life!

    The whole week was a wonderfully rewarding experience, not only from a surgical point of view, but also because of the very special opportunity to meet so many amazing indigenous Australians… from tribal elders, artists, stockmen and members of the “stolen generation”…. all had amazing life stories to share. I have already volunteered to help out again with future eye surgery programmes in Alice Springs, and I am looking forward to my next trip to the red centre!