Seeing the bigger picture
Mark and Teresa Richey visit Tanzania with Himalayan Cataract Project
Oct. 14, 2022
They arrived in masses on buses or walking on worn feet, sock bottoms gone, extreme poverty evident, says Teresa Richey.
They were carefully screened, paperwork completed and numbers taped to their foreheads. There were 292 in total, each blind, most elderly, adds Teresa’s husband Mark Richey. They waited in brightly colored plastic chairs, under a dirty tent, for their turn to lay down on a gurney beside another patient in partially finished laundry turned makeshift operating room with no running water or bathroom beside a hospital in remote Rujewa, Tanzania.
And when they were done, after an overnight stay on mattresses on the floor of the hospital, each – every one of them – could do something many hadn’t been able to do in a long time: see.
They raised their hands in joy. They sang. They cried. Their lives, and that of their family caregivers, were fundamentally changed.
Mark and Teresa’s were as well.
The Newburyport, Mass., couple and owners of Mark Richey Woodworking and WallGoldfinger Furniture, volunteered in September with the Himalayan Cataract Project, a non-profit providing cataract surgeries to correct preventable blindness in the world’s poorest areas.
Project co-founder Dr. Geoff Tabin is a fellow mountain climber with Mark, and the Richeys are financial supporters of their friend’s dogged efforts to abate unnecessary blindness.
In September, with the Richeys in tow, Dr. Tabin and a small team brought the project to Tanzania for the first time. The introduction to the East African country was thanks to the organizational efforts of Helen Keller International, which secured the location at the Mbarali District Hospital, supplies and the help of Tanzanian health care workers, including the deputy minister of health, a Tanzania cataract surgeon and several nurses.
With no real medical training, the Richeys still played integral roles. For five 12-hour days, they administered eye drops before and after surgery, first to dilate eyes and then antibiotics and steroids following surgery.
Teresa helped patients remove headwraps and shoes and don surgical gowns. “I touched every person,” Teresa says. “If I thought they were nervous, I rubbed their back and held hands.” The experience transcended language barriers, she said.
Mark brought patients from Teresa’s post to the OR, physically lifting each one on to the operating table, gently, so as not to disrupt the neighboring patient undergoing surgery, he said. He helped position them and hold them still during the surgery, allowing the surgeons to move quickly and successfully.
After surgery, he brought the patients back to Teresa and she reversed the process of helping them recover their possessions and prepare for their overnight stay.
And then the next day, bandages came off, and joy erupted.
“They were long and kind of grueling days, but the joy,” said Mark. “The emotion was just incredible. They would jump up. They would sing. They would cry in happiness.”
Teresa described the experience as “almost like biblical scenes.” “I don’t know if it could ever be captured in a video or photo.”
“I felt I had a gift, an opportunity, to see firsthand what he’s doing,” Teresa said of Dr. Tabin, “but I felt I left with a responsibility to tell people what I saw.”
See more about the Himalayan Cataract Project, including how to donate, at www.cureblindness.org.
Read about Mark and Teresa’s other past efforts to help on a world stage at www.markrichey.com/about#outreach.
Mark and Teresa Richey along with Dr. Geoff Tobin of the Himalayan Cataract Project are pictured in Tanzania in September 2022 helping restore vision to those suffering unnecessary blindness due to cataracts.