Sara's father, Dr. Geoffrey Tabin, is an ophthalmologist and the Director of International Ophthalmology at the Moran Eye Center. He has performed cataract operations all over the world.
"A cataract is a clouding of the lens," Sara Tabin said. "The fix is a simple, quick operation. In Ethiopia, there's limited access to health care, so we held a free cataract outreach. We performed 571 operations in total."
Sara Tabin and her father worked in Ethiopia for 10 days, performing surgeries and training local doctors in high-volume surgery, so they can continue to perform operations.
She helped organize the patients and other volunteers, gave patients eye drops, worked on public relations and comforted frightened patients, to name only a few of her duties. Because she has been accompanying her father for so many years, she already had a solid foundation of what needed to be done for the patients.
Cataract surgery requires the doctor to replace the lens in the eye. The surgery is easy to perform, and since artificial lenses are used, the surgeons are able to perform many operations.
"You can change someone's life overnight," Tabin said.
Tabin, however, had a difficult time finding her place at the start of the trip.
"I knew the work we were doing was important, but I wasn't sure that my role was necessary," she said. "One day when I was in the market, I saw a young girl selling avocadoes and noticed instantly that she had a trauma cataract. I told her that we were doing free surgeries and could do one for her that day. She turned around and ran straight to the hospital. I held her hand during the surgery because she was nervous. After, when she could see, she hugged me and cried. So I know for sure that I helped one person. Her name was Tigist; she's 17 like me."
Tabin recalled a story her father used to tell her, in which an old man is on a beach throwing starfish that had washed up onto the shore back into the water. Someone approaches the man and tells him there are so many starfish that he could never make a difference. The old man picks one up, throws it in and says, "Well, it made a difference to that one."
"I feel like Tigist was my starfish," Tabin said.
Tabin hopes that she can continue to work in the cataract camps in the future and even has dreams of continuing the work her father is already doing. She has expressed interest in going to medical school and working in other countries to perform surgeries and train local doctors.
"I think if I did go into medicine, I'd want to be an OB/GYN because there's a huge need for infant and maternal healthcare in developing countries," Tabin said.
For now, Tabin is focusing on her senior year of high school, which will include applying to colleges. She is a member of the Student Council and a debate team captain. Tabin donates her time to the National Ability Center and Big Brothers Big Sisters, which she says is "the highlight of my week."
"My favorite thing to do is make people happy," Tabin says. There's no doubt she'll help plenty of other starfish in the future.