Eye surgeon to speak in Aspen about mission work abroad
August 27, 2011
ASPEN – Dr. Geoff Tabin, a Utah eye surgeon and college professor who has made it his life’s mission to help restore sight to hundreds of thousands of blind people in Third World countries, will discuss his work Saturday during an Aspen visit.
Tabin will speak at 3 p.m. at the Wheeler Opera House’s MountainSummit event. He also plans to talk about his favorite pastime, mountain climbing and hiking, and how it intertwines with his career path to form a unique life journey.
One of the subjects of the 2006 documentary “Light of the Himalayas,” Tabin flew into Aspen Friday evening after nearly three weeks of working and hiking in Tanzania. There, he and other health care professionals examined 30,000 people at the U.N. Millennium Development Village and restored sight to more than 400 people who were blind or nearly blind from cataracts. He also made time to hike Mount Kilimanjaro, a dormant volcano in Tanzania with peaks that rise to 19,341 feet above sea level. It’s the highest mountain in Africa.
The area where the village is located, he said, “is arguably in the most destitute place on the planet. It’s the poorest place in Tanzania and they’re having a really bad drought. They’re also having a lot of refugees coming across the border from Somalia. We treated anyone who had an infection and did 440 cataract surgeries.”
Tabin has been working to bring quality eye care to underdeveloped countries for more than 15 years. In 1995 he and another physician established the Himalayan Cataract Project, a charitable program that empowers local doctors in Nepal, Tibet, China, Bhutan, India and Pakistan to provide ophthalmic care through skills transfer and education. The program has grown from 1,500 surgeries in its first year to 230,000 last year.
“Eighty-five percent of the blindness in our world is preventable or treatable,” he said. “And 55 percent of world blindness involves completely treatable cataracts. With surgery, people go from being very blind to very well the next day.”
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And in underdeveloped countries, the cost of repairing a person’s eyesight is not as expensive as it is in the United States.
“The nice thing about eye care and cataract surgery, the material cost is $11 to restore sight to someone who’s totally blind,” Tabin said. That same surgery would cost $3,500 if performed in the United States.
With the Himalayan Cataract Project having become a self-sustaining operation, Tabin said he has turned his attention to Africa over the last few years.
“We’ve got successful programs in Ethiopia, Ghana and Rwanda, but we’re struggling in other places like Tanzania and Nigeria. I’ll share some interesting and funny stories about what we’re doing in Africa, dealing with corruption, local governments, the global economy and other situations,” he said.
The Park City, Utah, resident is a professor of ophthalmology and visual sciences and director of international ophthalmology at the John A. Moran Eye Center at the University of Utah. He holds degrees from Yale College, Oxford University and Harvard Medical School.
In addition, he was the fourth person to climb the “Seven Summits,” the highest points of all seven continents. His book “Blind Corners: Adventures on Everest and the World’s Tallest Peaks” was published by Lyons Press in 2002.
Single tickets to Tabin’s 75-minute presentation are $12. The full MountainSummit pass for Saturday is $36 and includes entry to four films: “With My Own Two Wheels,” “If a Tree Falls,” “The Barber from Birmingham” and “From the Ground Up.”