Field Notes: Screening for Blindness in San Jose City

Article by Dianne Joy A. Castelo

More than 1.25 million Filipinos have some form of visual impairment.  Of those, 33 percent suffer from cataracts – a reversible condition that tends to appear with aging.  With cataracts, a cloudy film covers the lens of the eye making it difficult to see clearly, or at all.  With pterygium, a triangular patch of tissue grows over the inner side of the eye and obstructs vision.  Both conditions are able to be treated with surgery which is why Alay Foundation works with Kapampangan Development Foundation (KDF) to screen patients and to perform surgeries.

In early June we began preparing for our free eye screening to detect cataracts and pterygium co-hosted by KDF and Alay Foundation.  We started by distributing advertising signs throughout San Jose City and by promoting the screening in the barangays.  We successfully signed up 97 people in advance of the screening.  When July 11th arrived, we signed up another 116 people – it was a good thing we had anticipated a large crowd.

While Rizza registered patients at the entrance to Plaza Leonor, my responsibility was to assist the people throughout the screening process.  Cerone documented the event through photos and words and Aida worked with all of the patients seeking reading glasses.

Although over 200 people came for the screenings, only 50 of those diagnosed with cataracts or pterygium scheduled their surgeries.  Fear, by far, is the biggest factor holding people back from these life-changing surgeries.  And, even though we stress throughout all of our advertising and promotion that the screenings and surgeries are completely free of charge, there is a myth that persists in the city and barangays that patients will be charged as much as 12,000 pesos.  Unfortunately, other cataract programs in the Philippines have been caught in this kind of fraudulent and corrupt practice which is casting a shadow over programs like Kapampangan Development Foundation’s which never charges a patient for their surgery and Alay Foundation’s program that never charges the people and their families for transportation to and from their scheduled surgeries.

With cataracts being one of the leading causes of blindness in the Philippines it has never been more important than now to screen as many people as possible.

 

Making Smiles… :)

 

Field Notes From Rizza Paray

On June 16, Doc Guy, Dianne and I went to KDF Pampanga to pick up the two cleft lip patients that had surgery over the weekend.  We were all excited to see their beautiful new smiles.  Our two and a half hour ride became even longer when our van broke down, again :/  Luckily, we were by a gas station and we were able to fix it to make it to KDF’s facility.  

Once we arrived we learned that both of the children’s operations went very well with no complications and their parents were so happy because in the future, no one will bully them.

Thinking of the comfort and safety of patients, Doc Guy decided to pay for patients and their families to get home by bus because he didn’t want the van to break down with patients. Dianne and I accompanied them on the bus to San Jose City.  

I hope Alay Foundation can identify more cleft lip patients to help because it can prevent bullying and can increase the self confidence of children suffering from cleft lip.  Every child should be able to smile with pride :)

Restoring Eyesight, Restoring Hope: Field Notes from Kapampangan Development Foundation Site Visit

Article authored by Rizza M. Paray

One of Alay foundation’s ongoing field programs is to locate people suffering from cataracts of the eye and poor eyesight.  We interview these prospective patients to identify need and we then transport them, under the kind guidance of Ma’am Aida Cleofas, an Alay Foundation volunteer, to Kapampangan Development Foundation in San Fernando, Pampanga.  Once they reach KDF they are screened for the procedure, undergo surgery, and then return for their post-operative follow-up visits.  The people travel for hours to reach Pampanga but they endure the journey with the hope of having their eyesight restored at no cost to them at any time.  The alternatives for those with cataracts is to have their operations at local hospitals where they will be billed the balance after the government subsidy of PhilHealth which is altogether too expensive for so many Filipinos who live in absolute poverty.

Dianne and I made our first site visit to our partner organization, Kapampangan Development Foundation, on May 8th.  Our founder, Dr. Sobrepena, introduced us to KDF’s compassionate staff.  We took a guided tour of KDF’s facilities and we were able to capture our visit through photography.  Dianne and I had the good fortune of meeting with several patients preparing for surgery as well as those returning for their post-operative follow-up appointments.  KDF and its dedicated staff conduct this surgical outreach program with passion and with empathy for the community they serve.  While some medical missions are designed to move from one area to another and yet another – making follow-up visits impossible, Kapampangan Development Foundation’s program for cataract patients is a dedicated program located in the community and created to see its patient through the whole process to healing – from screening and surgery to all follow-up visits and any concerns that arise in between.

I am excited to report that day by day the number of people visiting our offices for inquiries about the cataract surgeries increases.  It is so very gratifying to help people who are suffering and are in need.  Alay Foundation is an organization that cares about people and it is rewarding to join a group of such committed staff and volunteers.  Together we are reaching those who need our help and services the most.  In a blog post coming soon I will be able to share with you my experiences working with the children in need of cleft lip and/or cleft palate reconstructive surgeries.  Their beautiful spirits will leave an indelible mark on you as they did on me.

Field Notes: A Visit to Kapampangan Development Foundation and Post-Operative Interviews

Photo:  May 8, 2015 – Cataract patients gather in San Jose before making the journey to Pampanga for screenings and surgeries.

Article written by Dianne Castelo

Two weeks ago, on May 8th, I visited Kapampangan Development Foundation to learn about their cataract screening and surgery program.  It was astonishing to see just how many people were waiting at the doors to be cured of their cataracts.  There were those that were there for their first screening, and there were those there for surgery,and yet others for their post-operative follow-up appointments.  KDF organizes this program free of charge for the impoverished in their community of Pampanga, as well as in ours, San Jose City, Nueva Ecija

While transporting several of the patients back to San Jose I had the opportunity to speak with them about their experiences.  All had travelled a great distance to have their eyesight restored and I could see the joy and hope in their faces.  Their indescribable gratitude for the partnership between KDF and Alay Foundation that allowed them to see again without any cost to them left me humbled.  Their happiness was my happiness.  I was truly amazed by their gratitude and it was the first time I felt so much a part of something bigger than myself – something as important as the work of Alay Foundation.   We brought our patients home to their families after a long and good day.

Alay Foundation tracks the progress of the patients in the cataract program and follows up with patients throughout their experience.  I recently had the opportunity to meet with two of our patients, Mrs. Victoria DeGuzman and Mrs. Adelaida Cleofas, both of whom are recovering nicely.   

Mrs. DeGuzman  has suffered from cataracts for the past two years during which time she became less and less able to do her work around the house leaving her feeling frustrated at not being able to be as active as she once was.  Not able to afford the cataract surgery on her own, she was entirely grateful to enroll in Kapampangan Development Foundation’s surgical program and for the dedicated transportation of Alay Foundation.  Since completing her surgeries, Mrs. DeGuzman has resumed her usual activities and never misses an opportunity to share her experience with her friends and neighbors suffering from eye problems.

Mrs. Adelaida Cleofas has been living with diminished sight from her cataracts for nearly two years.  She shared with me her sadness at losing the ability to remain active in her work at home.  Mrs. Cleofas was not in a position to afford the expensive surgery at the local hospital and turned to Alay Foundation and KDF when living with cataracts became too much to bear.  Now, nine months since completing surgery for both eyes, Mrs. Cleofas has become an powerful advocate sharing her experience with others and volunteering with Alay Foundation in its transportation program in support of KDF.

Having met these two remarkable women, I can say I feel a greater sense of fulfillment knowing that I have  touched people’s lives even if it was in such a small way as a gesture of kindness and friendship during our interviews. 

Educational Outreach in the Philippines

“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”
~Nelson Mandela

One of the challenges we are seeing in the field has been the lack of education on basic medical procedures from community members and patients we have been transporting to their cataract surgeries. We are witnessing how patients are postponing their surgeries around planting seasons because they believe that there is a six month recovery period from cataract surgery. This is untrue, as the recovery time is about 1 day, although caution with heavy lifting for 1 month may also be recommended.

Educational outreach is pivotal in our mission, especially when our birthing and women’s center becomes operational. Alay Foundation will be using a comprehensive and long-term approach to caring for pregnant women. We will be encouraging our patients to get prenatal care at our facilities and giving them prenatal vitamins to take throughout their pregnancies. We will also be giving six weeks of post natal maternal care and one year of post natal pediatric care.

Many poor women in the Philippines do not get any pre-natal care or take pre-natal vitamins. We are finding that there are 2 main reasons for this: (1) they lack the financial resources and (2) they do not see prenatal care as a priority.

Alay Foundation will vigorously work to address these issues by doing educational outreach in San Jose City and the surrounding communities. Meanwhile, our work continues with enrolling patients in Philhealth, plans being finalized on birthing center construction and transporting patients.

In light of these challenges, we now have one of our team members in the Philippines conducting field research on other basic health care misconceptions. Our goal is to find out what types of educational outreach are needed most in the San Jose area that we can provide.

Cataract and Cleft Lip Surgery Update

On May 13, 2014 Alay Foundation, in collaboration with our fellow organization KDF, hosted our first event: Free Catartact Surgery Screening and Reading Glasses Distribution Day. Patients were also screened for free cleft lip and cleft palate surgeries and new prosthesis fittings.

Alay Foundation saw a total of 555 people, gave away 199 pairs of eyeglasses, scheduled 97 people for cataract surgery, 5 people will be fitted and given new prostheses, and 4 people scheduled for cleft lip and cleft palate  surgeries which have been completed along with follow up visits. See pictures the families allowed us to share with you on https://www.facebook.com/ASBNS

Cataract Surgeries are still being completed and Alay Foundation has been and will continue transporting patients to KDF facilities for their scheduled appointments. So far we have completed 45 cataract surgeries and have 52 more to go. Two patients have been given their new prostheses and we are waiting for four more to schedule their follow-up appointments. All in all, progress is being made and we are committed to getting patients to their scheduled surgeries.

KDF, is a local Philippine charity that has been working in our neighboring region, Pampanga, in the Philippines since 1987. They provide disability programs and maternal and child health programs. Alay Foundation has been warmly welcomed by KDF to the community of dedicated volunteers and professionals working to help alleviate the suffering of the poor in the Philippines. KDF has taken Alay Foundation under its wing and will be providing us with advice and help that only an organization with experience such as KDF can give. You can find out more about KDF and the work they do on their Facebook page:    https://www.facebook.com/KapampanganDevelopmentFoundation .

We look forward to working closely with KDF in serving the community by helping to raise the standard of healthcare for the poor in the Philippines.