For this week’s Favorite Friend Friday, we are featuring one of our surgeons who has devoted his life not only to giving back to his local community but to people all over the world. Herbert J. Ingraham, MD, Chairman of the Department of Ophthalmology and Director of Geisinger Eye Institute is passionate about giving back to impoverished populations suffering high rates of blindness.
Dr. Ingraham has a special appreciation for the work he does because right before his sixteenth birthday he received a corneal transplant himself. “I feel very blessed to be able to do what I do. Without my transplant, none of this would be possible.”
As a resident, Dr. Ingraham always had international work in the back of his mind, but there weren’t programs in place for it like there are today. “When my daughters were in college, they started going on mission trips, and it reminded me of my passion. I realized I had a shrinking window to do it in, so when I was in my late 40s, I realized it was now or never.”
It is difficult to believe that a routine surgery in the United States that helps restore someone’s vision is unavailable in many countries around the world. Not only is there a startling shortage of ophthalmologists to perform surgery, there is also a shortage of corneal graft tissue. When I spoke with Dr. Ingraham earlier this week he had just returned from his latest mission trip to Nepal and Northern India. He tries to bring his residents there with him yearly depending on the physical and political conditions. “It’s a good experience for the residents,” he explains. “You hope if you plant the seed now, maybe not immediately, but a few years down the road, they will remember this experience and want to give back.”
Just two months prior, Dr. Ingraham traveled back to Gauaqyuil, Ecuador, a country he visits frequently. During this trip he and his team performed 16 corneal transplants and 40 cataract surgeries over the course of four days. A large part of why Guayaquil is so special to Dr. Ingraham is working with Eddie Icaza, MD, Medical Director of FUNCRISA, a general clinic for the residents of Guayaquil. While Dr. Ingraham assisted Dr. Icaza with performing cornea transplant surgery, he states that he learned just as much from the local Doctor as Dr. Icaza did from him.
“There are few things in life more satisfying than restoring someone’s sight, especially someone who has been told, because of where they live and their socio-economic status and their disease, that there is no hope for them. And teaching another physician who can continue that work when I’m back home, that is even more satisfying,” says Dr. Ingraham.
“The number of surgeries I can perform on each mission trip is limited by the number of corneas I can bring from the US,” Dr. Ingraham explains. “I have been profoundly grateful to LEBDV for both the number and quality of corneas the Eye Bank has provided. They are such a wonderful organization that supports so many people right here in our own backyard, as well as across the globe.”
We’ll close off this Favorite Friend Friday article with a Helen Keller quote that Dr. Ingraham ends many of his emails with: “When we do the best we can, we never know what miracle is wrought in our life, or in the life of another.” –Helen Keller.
Thank you Dr. Ingraham, for all that you do within our community, and around the world!
This week’s Favorite Friend Friday is most definitely a face that you have seen before. A corneal transplant recipient, Delaware native, and national ambassador for Eye Donation Month, it only seemed appropriate to feature Cameron Whittle once again as today marks the official start of National Eye Donation Month.
National Eye Donation Month, proclaimed by President Ronald Reagan in 1983, is used by the Eye Bank Association of America as an opportunity to educate the public about the importance of registering to be a donor, about cornea donation and transplantation, and to acknowledge the important work of eye banks. This year’s campaign is centered around the theme, “The Power of You,” which acknowledges the entire community of people who are involved in the journey of sight restoration. The campaign demonstrates the “power” that individuals have in building hope, restoring sight and changing lives, including healthcare professionals and partners, researchers, eye bank staff, corneal surgeons, recipients and donor families, and YOU.
Throughout the month of November, we will be featuring stories of recipients, donor families, eye bank staff, surgeons, and other individuals who play a crucial role in the eye donation process. Make sure you are following us on Facebook (Lions Eye Bank of Delaware Valley) and Instagram (@lionseyebankdelawarevalley) to keep up with all National Eye Donation Month has to offer! Follow along with the official hashtags of Eye Donation Month as well, #eyedonationmonth, #eyedonationmonth2019.
Cameron Whittle began experiencing visual difficulties including, photosensitivity, eye irritation, drainage and swelling at the early age of three. At age 13, Cameron was diagnosed with keratoconus. His initial treatment for this was wearing eyeglasses to correct his sight followed by special contacts. Keratoconus is a disease that affects the cornea, which is the clear, dome-shaped tissue covering the front of the eye. It results when the cornea’s dome bulges outward into the shape of a cone. Over the course of time, the disease led to vision loss and corneal tissue scarring. In June of 2014, Cameron had his corneal transplant surgery and regained vision in his left eye.
He is now in his junior year at Goldey-Beacom College in Wilmington, DE. Cameron believes in paying it forward and honors his cornea donor by volunteering at Lions Eye Bank of Delaware Valley and being an advocate for cornea donation. During the 2016 Transplant Games of America held in Cleveland, OH, Cameron took first place in the 1,500 meter race! He will most likely be back for more at the 2020 Transplant Games this summer in the Meadowlands, NJ.
Cameron and his family express eternal gratitude to the donor who made the selfless decision to donate their cornea. “Being a cornea and organ donor is so important. My donor now lives on through me,” Cameron says. He will be honoring his donor and their family, along with many others at the Delaware Life & Legacy Celebration on Sunday, November 10. In 2016 Cameron wrote to his donor family saying:
Dear Donor Family,
The past two years have been such a wonderful and grateful experience. Your loved one gave me sight again and that’s one of the greatest things on earth. I have my license and can drive now. It is my senior year at Newark Charter High School. Without the help of your loved one, I wouldn’t be able to have a license, car, complete high school and now be going to college.
Thank you Cameron for all that you do to support LEBDV and our mission to restore sight in the Delaware Valley; we don’t know what we’d do without you!