Local climber and ophthalmologist journeys to Nepal
Park City resident Geoff Tabin first traveled to Nepal with an eye for adventure. Now he frequents the country’s mountainous regions to restore the eyes of its people. Tabin, a traveler to the corners of the world, was the fourth person to summit the highest peak on every continent. His journeys include a trek through the jungles of Irian Jaya to the top of Carstensz Pyramid, a cold and desolate expedition to the summit of Antarctica’s Mount Vinson and a treacherous first descent up Mount Everest’s unforgiving east face. After earning a degree from Harvard Medical School, he traveled back to Nepal in 1989, a country he became familiar with during his Everest climbs. There he worked as a general doctor in the Saplu Mountains for eight months of the year, spending the other four months trekking up nearby peaks. While working at the Saplu medical center he witnessed what he refers to as "the miracle of eye surgery." A team from the Netherlands visited the secluded mountain region and performed cataract surgery on a blind woman. The woman’s vision was restored and she returned home able to cook and care for her grandchildren. "People are totally blind and the next day they can see," he said. "It is the most incredible, dramatic thing." With a newfound mission, Tabin returned to the United States where he completed a residency in Ophthalmology at Brown University. He then joined forces with a professor from Melbourne, Australia, Hugh Taylor. They completed a fellowship through the Fred Hollows Foundation, during which Tabin traveled back to Nepal in 1993 to work at a high-volume cataract surgery camp with Sanduk Ruit, a doctor in the towns of Kathmandu and Jiri. Tabin said the prevalence of blindness in Nepal caused by untreated cataracts led many of the locals to believe that their hair would turn white, their eye would turn white and then they would die. "People who were totally blind and waiting to die all of a sudden had their vision restored and were retuned totally to life," he said. After his fellowship ended, Tabin stayed in Kathmandu an extra year with Ruit. The extended stay gave him time to explore the surrounding Dolpa mountain region. He made first ascents up three towering mountains that had previously been closed to climbers. Tabin said he gained access to the Dolpa Mountains because he had operated on the prime minister’s mother. As a return favor, the prime minister approved his climbing request. Ruit and Tabin founded the Himalayan Cataract Project in 1994, a nonprofit program that teaches regional doctors how to perform modern eye surgeries. They use the Tilganga Eye Center in Kathmandu, where Ruit works as medical director, as the headquarters for the program. When Tabin returned to the United States he took at job at the University of Vermont’s School of Medicine, where he worked for nine years. In June, he moved to Park City to work for the University of Utah as a professor of ophthalmology and visual sciences and director of the division of international ophthalmology at the John A Moran Eye Center. Tabin travels approximately three times a year for a couple weeks at a time as part of the Himalayan Cataract Project. He plans trips to Nepal, Tibet, China, Bhutan, India, Sikkim and Pakistan, where he performs surgeries and teaches local doctors cutting-edge surgical techniques to help their hospitals become self sufficient. Dec. 3, Tabin and his wife, Jean, a fellow ophthalmologist who also works at the John A. Moran Eye Center, and their youngest children Sara, 8, and Daniel, 6, will return from a three-week stay in Kathmandu, Nepal. Geoff Tabin taught advanced corneal and cataract surgery workshops and Jean Tabin taught first year residents examination and diagnostic skills. "It’s a wonderful concept of getting sustainable eye care in developing countries instead of just doing things and leaving," Jean Tabin said. She said Sara and Daniel, the youngest of five children, were scheduled to attend a local school in Kathmandu. "I think its great to expose children to different cultures," she said. "It makes them more open minded and they learn to appreciate other people around the world." Geoff Tabin said the Himalayan Cataract Project in conjunction with the Tilganga Eye Center offers a three-year residency for certified doctors, a one-year course for ophthalmology assistants, a two-year course for ophthalmology nurses and a three-year course for ophthalmologist technicians. Tabin said when he first began working in Nepal there were only 15,000 cataract surgeries performed a year, and only about 1,000 of those surgeries utilized modern techniques and lens implants. Last year, he said 130,000 cataract surgeries were performed in Nepal, with 99 percent of those surgeries using modern techniques. Tabin said the Himalayan Cataract Project helps keep eye care medical costs down by manufacturing the ophthalmologic equipment and supplies in local areas of the Himalayas. He said equipment for lens implants that would cost $300 in the U.S. costs $4 in Nepal, medicines that would cost $100 in the U.S. costs $1 and cataract surgery, approximately $3,000 in the U.S. costs $20 in Nepal. "The whole focus of our project is to create things that will continue in sustaining eye care," Geoff Tabin said. Upon his return to Park City, Tabin will speak at the Park City Library on Dec. 7 at 6 p.m.. His talk will be titled "Impossible Dreams, Climbing the East Face of Mount Everest and Eradicating World Blindness." For more information on the Himalayan Cataract Project visit http://www.cureblindness.org.
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