Peruvian girl gets life-saving surgery

A four-year-old from Peru was able to come to New York City for a life-saving operation, thanks to the work of Volunteer Optometric Services to Humanity (VOSH) – NY.

VOSH-NY president and founder Dr. Jorge Won, who is an optometrist based in Jackson Heights, explained that the organization goes on humanitarian missions, typically to third-world countries, to conduct free eye exams for needy people. During a trip to Peru last March he met Yhoalibeth Ximena Abato.

The organization was on a four-dash mission and had seen more than 2,000 people, most of whom needed primary eye care or eyeglasses. On the last day, Yhoalibeth was brought in with her mother.

She had plexiform neurofibromatosis, which created a tumor behind her right eye. Won explained that the tumor was pushing against the eye.

“It is quite shocking to see that kind of eye,” he said. “It’s a very uncommon condition.”

It was decided that the life-threatening tumor could not be operated on in Peru because, Won said, it “was definitely something beyond the reach of us down there in the clinic.” Won said that one of the surgeons there for the mission was associated with Mt. Siani Hospital, so he showed the girl’s medical records to his colleagues.

“They thought they could do something here,” Won said. He added, “There were no options. It’s like sealing her fate if we didn’t do anything.”

Many people stepped up to the plate to help bring the family to the United States for the surgery. Won said the hospital offered to do the work pro-bono and even the airline fare was donated. He said that it has been “really amazing” making this happen and that hundreds of people on both continents have made it possible.

“This is probably the most import thing that we’ve done,” Won said.

After about seven months of working to get her here, Yhoalibeth had her surgery on Tuesday, October 28. A few days after the surgery, Won said that she was doing “great.” She will now remain in the country for outpatient treatment.

This marked the first time that VOSH-NY has brought someone to the country. Won said that typically they provide on-site care.

In the last eight years, VOSH-NY has conducted 15 missions. Some of the countries they have gone to are Peru, Haiti, Mexico and India. They will also be going on an upcoming mission to Lebanon.

During these missions, Won explained that the visiting medical personnel work with additional medical staff from the country they are in.

“We join hands with the ones from the host country,” he said.

Given the opportunity, Won said the organization would bring others to the U.S. for surgery, although it would be done on a case-by-case basis.

For more information about Volunteer Optometric Services to Humanity-NY, visit www.vosh-ny.org.

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