June 2016




Cataract surgery on a ship

by Liz Hillman EyeWorld Staff Writer

Hospital ship

The U.S. Navy hospital ship USNS Comfort anchored in Port-au-Prince, Haiti during its last stop on the Continuing Promise 2015 humanitarian mission through Latin America.

Bilateral pterygia procedure

Dr. Stolldorf oversees a bilateral pterygia procedure performed by CPT Nicholas Lancaster, a U.S. Army ophthalmologist with Continuing Promise 2015.

Eye surgeryU.S. Army CPT Nicholas Lancaster performs eye surgery on 52-year-old Haitian patient Gene Gentil aboard the hospital ship USNS Comfort. Source: Alan De Herrera, www.alandeherrera.com

U.S. Navys humanitarian work involves performing cataract surgeries in ports for countries in need

Though it might appear like a standard, well-equipped operating room, a closer look reveals tie rods on the floor for all equipment. On any given day, surgeries may be cancelled due to the weather. Thats because this operating room is 1 of 12 located on the U.S. Navys USNS Comfort. The nearly 900-foot-long ship with a home port in Norfolk, Virginia, is, like its sister ship the USNS Mercy on the West Coast, ready to deploy as a mobile, floating hospital in the event of a natural disaster or during wartime. In its otherwise down time thoughand unbeknownst to the majority of civiliansthese ships have sailed the seas conducting humanitarian work for decades.

The majority of the American public has no idea that the Navy is doing this because they dont get much publicity, said photojournalist Alan De Herrera, pointing out that he was the only media member to do a lengthy embed on the USNS Comfort for its recent mission, Continuing Promise 2015. This mission made 11 stops to developing countries, bringing surgical and medical aid, as well as veterinary and construction services. In addition to missions like Continuing Promise, the USNS Comfort provided support after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita and responded to New York City after the 9/11 attacks. Wanting to drum up the recognition he thinks this type of work deserves, Mr. De Herrera spent a couple of weeks on the ship, capturing images from the operating room. Its a feel-good story in the sense that our military is doing some really good stuff, and its nation building, he said. Lt. Cmdr. Hunter Stolldorf, MD, who is stationed at Naval Hospital Camp Lejeune in Jacksonville, North Carolina, went for his first 6-month mission on the USNS Comfort last year, where he completed 200 cases. He acknowledged that many of his civilian counterparts might not think thats a lot during such a timeframe, but he pointed out that he was competing for OR time with every other subspecialty surgeon on the ship. The majority of Dr. Stolldorfs cases were cataract surgeries (65%), 30% were pterygium, and 5% were strabismus. To perform cataract surgeries on the ship and in ports for countries that included Haiti, Guatemala, Jamaica, Nicaragua, and Colombia, Dr. Stolldorf had to learn an old-school technique that is generally not taught in U.S. residency programs. That technique, sutureless manual small incision cataract surgery (MSICS), removes the cataract as a whole, rather than breaking it up with phacoemulsification. Dr. Stolldorf said this latter, more modern technique, which has become the standard for cataract surgery in the U.S., is not as safe for most patients in these countries who generally have more advanced cataracts.

While the OR itself is top notch, despite its relatively unusual setting, Dr. Stolldorf said performing surgery on a ship presents its own set of challenges. The tides and currents affected if we could do surgery or not. The captain of the ship had to know when I was doing surgery under a microscope so that he could pay much closer attention to the movements of the ship, Dr. Stolldorf said.

Surgery was delayed for a couple of hours due to rougher waters at least once during the trip. What I thought was fascinating about [this work was] the importance of our eyesight, Mr. De Herrera said, noting that hes always had an interest in medicine and has experienced the OR environment before, photographing cleft lip procedures. The individuals they were helping would eventually lose their sight, and that obviously would be devastating for anyone in that situation.

Somewhere like Haitiits such a depressed country to begin withto not have the opportunity to get something like that, which is an easy procedure to repair and fix, would be devastating, he continued, saying that many in these countries still go without treatment as only a fraction can be treated on the missions. Attending the U.S. Naval Academy in 1996, completing his medical education at the University of Virginia, and receiving specialized training in ophthalmology at the Naval Medical Center San Diego, Dr. Stolldorf said he always had an interest in doing humanitarian work. I think that as a surgeon this is a chance to do pure medicine for the sake of good, he said. You help people and give them what they need in a world where, unfortunately, things like money, reimbursements, and business get in the way of why a lot of people went into medicine in the first place. While patients would often thank him for his work, Dr. Stolldorf said he would have turned that thank you back to them if there wasnt a language barrier. I benefitted just as much as them because it was extremely rewarding, he said. Though rewarding for many who do this type of work from an individual standpoint, why is the U.S. militarys involvement specifically in such missions important? Dr. Stolldorf said its the United States way of telling its neighbors we care about you. Thats what its all about, building bridges between us and our neighbors, he said. Dr. Stolldorf said surgeons do not have to be active duty military to participate on missions with the USNS Comfort. Project HOPE, for example, just completed its 35th humanitarian mission with the Department of Defense by sending medical volunteers on Continuing Promise. Mr. De Herrera said he hopes that his photographs help inspire people to consider giving a week of their time to serve on such a mission. It doesnt have to be a Continuing Promise mission, but there are so many organizations around the world that doctors can join to do this type of work in Third World countries, he said. Perhaps this could be inspirational.

Contact information

De Herrera: www.alandeherrera.com
Stolldorf: hunter_stolldorf@hotmail.com

Related articles:

New focus on NSAIDs for cataract surgery by Maxine Lipner EyeWorld Senior Contributing Writer

Numerous options available to correct refractive error post cataract surgery by Louise Gagnon EyeWorld Contributing Writer

Cataract surgery in eyes with compromised corneas by Michelle Dalton EyeWorld Contributing Writer

10 pearls for mastering cataract surgery with ocular comorbidities by Lauren Lipuma EyeWorld Staff Writer

Cataract surgery with corneal comorbidities by Ellen Stodola EyeWorld Staff Writer

Cataract surgery on a ship Cataract surgery on a ship
Ophthalmology News - EyeWorld Magazine
283 110
220 144
True, 6