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Princeton Doctor and His Son Gain Insight While Restoring Sight of Poor Patients in China

This summer, Richard H. Wong, MD, of the Princeton Eye Group took his son, Brian, on a trip that neither of them will ever forget. Volunteering with Surgical Eye Expeditions (S.E.E.), they traveled to Zhengzhou in Henan Province, the poorest province in China, bringing equipment, supplies and expertise that significantly raised the quality of local eye care.

I had visited Zhengzhou in 1979,” says Dr. Wong, and was eager to do something to repay them for their hospitality at that time.” The Wongs efforts transformed the lives of the people whom they treated, and the Wongs lives were transformed by the camaraderie they experienced working with the local doctors and their staffs.

When he first contemplated the trip, Dr. Wong had learned from his brother and partner at the Princeton Eye Group, Michael Wong, MD, who had taken his son to Africa on a similar trip last year, that his son could play a significant role in their expedition. To make that possible, Brian devoted much of the past year to preparing for the trip. After taking the Emergency Medical Technician course last summer and fall, he began riding with the West Windsor rescue squad. Brian also spent a few weeks at the Princeton Eye Groups surgical center learning pre-operative and post-operative care, and assisting in surgery.

At the same time, Dr. Wong began his preparations. The stated goal of the trip was for the Wongs to work with Dr. Xiaofang Zhang, the head of the Department of Ophthalmology at the First Affiliated Hospital of Zhengzhou University, to perform 100 cataract surgery cases with lens implantation. To make that possible, Dr. Wong was able to get the lens implants donated by Bausch and Lomb, a company whose products are used at the Princeton Eye Group surgery center. Then, Phil Ricco, Dr. Wongs Bausch and Lomb representative, put him in contact with Edward Hsu, a member of the Bausch and Lomb management team in China. Together, Dr Wong and Mr. Hsu were able to get a phacoemulsification machine, a piece of equipment necessary for the planned surgeries, moved from Beijing to Zhengzhou.

However, as Dr. Wong reviewed the questionnaire that had been filled out at the host site, it was clear that his hosts were interested in more than the missions primary purpose. In addition to the surgeries, they were eager for lectures on newer” technology, some demonstration surgery and transfer of skills. This changed the scope of the mission.

Luckily, because he had done so much training in preparation for the trip and because he speaks Chinese, Brian was able to help his father be efficient and productive enough to free up time for lectures. In the beginning, Brian was the only person on the medical staff who was familiar with the phacoemulsification machine, the instruments that had been brought from the Princeton Eye Group clinic and the technique of loading foldable lens implants into the injector. Soon, he was able to teach the staff surgeons how to load the injector.

The arrival of the Wongs created a stir in Henan Province. Word quickly spread that ‘an eye specialist from America was visiting Zhengzhou. Some patients traveled for days to get cataract surgery. Many of these patients had cataracts that could have been developing over 30 years and were now so hard that phacoemulsification was almost impractical. Some of these patients had never been able to see their grandchildren or great grandchildren. The joy and thanks that they expressed the next day when they could see again was deeply moving for the Wongs.

In addition to helping the patients he operated on, Dr. Wong was able to help raise general awareness among patients of the need for eye care. When his local colleagues noticed that his presence was attracting patients who would not otherwise have come to the clinic to seek help, he was made an adviser to some of the outlying clinics. The patients,” Dr. Wong notes, may have made their first visit to an eye clinic to see me, but they are likely to continue visiting. Given the skills and dedication of the doctors in Henan Province, they are in very good hands.”

Awareness was increased even more by the local media. The opening ceremony at the clinic, as well as interviews with doctors in the operating room and with patients the first day after surgery, were all broadcast on television and radio and covered in the newspapers. These media do not reach the very poorest patients in the region, but they may be reached by word-of-mouth.

Dr. Wong predicts that eye care will improve in Henan Province in the future. Although Zhengzhou is behind Beijing,” he says, they are quickly improving. In the near future, patients could be more knowledgeable. They may have more healthcare dollars to spend or they may have health insurance. The medical community there is eager to learn modern technologies, and wants to be ready to respond to an increased demand for eye care.”

In addition to their work in Zhengzhou, the Wongs visited Beijing and Qufu in Shandong Province, the birthplace of Confucius. There, during the annual celebration of Confucius birthday, which fell on Brians own birthday, they saw a show called Confucius Dream” which summed up their feelings about their journey. The show interpreted one of Confucius most famous sayings: Isnt it a delight to see to have friends coming from afar, who cherish the same ideals and follow the same path?” The message of the show was, ‘it would be wonderful (harmonious with great potential for achievement) if we could get together from all over the world and learn from each other and to help each other, the best we can. That, in effect, is what the Wongs had done, and it was, in fact, wonderful.