Doctor Provides Free Eye Care in Developing Country

Doctor Provides Free Eye Care in Developing Country

Rock Springs Dr. Pete Jensen has been traveling to Belize to provide free eye care for years. Courtesy photo

A Rock Springs doctor is making a difference in people’s lives when he travels to Belize to provide free eye care.

Longtime Ophthalmologists Dr. Peter Jensen of Rock Springs and Dr. Robert Peets of Dayton, Ohio, have been going to Belize to participate in the Belize Eye Mission through Physicians Mission LLC as often as they can since 2008. Prior to that, Dr. Peets went on the mission in 2006 and 2007 with another doctor. Dr. Peets sort of inherited the mission from a doctor who trained him and he decided to see if Dr. Jensen would want to participate as well.

Oftentimes, the doctors cannot go every year because of governmental changes in Belize, difficulties in obtaining temporary medical licenses, and sometimes even passport renewals can be troublesome. Usually, they are approved for the trip, but not always, Dr. Jensen explained.

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Dr. Jensen said he started attending the mission trips after Dr. Peets asked him to. He met Dr. Peets during residency training and they have been friends ever since.

“We stayed friends and this is a thing we do together,” Dr. Jensen said.

“People in Belize are very underserved when it comes to surgical procedures in general…” Dr. Jensen said.

While they were in Belize in June, the team provided services through their surgical eye care clinic. At the clinic, they conduct procedures to help with cataract, glaucoma, pterygium, diabetic retinopathy, and scar tissue removal. They also have been doing injection therapies for macular degeneration and diabetic macular edema.

Dr. Jensen said he not only provides these same services in Rock Springs, but even more. However, when the doctors are in Belize, they don’t want to perform any surgeries that require a lot of follow up appointments because they are only there for nine days.

“We don’t want to do anything that would require really long-term follow up down there because we have to leave,” Dr. Jensen said.

The Mission

Dr. Jensen said they are trying to expand upon what they can do, but it’s expensive to go, medications are costly and even with the donations of equipment they receive for the mission, they still spend their own money on air fair and room and board for those going. A minimum size crew of four is needed to complete the mission. The crew includes two doctors, a circulating nurse, and a surgical technician. This year, Rock Springs resident and certified ophthalmic assistant Jennifer Malec went with Dr. Jensen to ensure the mission could take place.

“This last one, we almost couldn’t go because of the difficulty getting a passport. It’s hard finding someone qualified with a passport because even if you rush a passport, these days it takes 8 weeks,” Dr. Jensen said.

Sometimes they take resident surgeons with them so they can obtain training and also staff to help with crowd control.

“When people hear we are coming, they gather outside of the clinic hoping they can get in even if they are not scheduled,” he said.

People in Belize have a broader window for cataracts than the United States. In the U.S. the average age for someone to need cataract surgery is 68 or 69 years old, while in Belize it seems to start in the 40s and 50s. It also appears that in Central America there is a higher rate of pterygium, which is a benign tumor on the surface of the eye that can cause blindness, he said.

As for the scheduling, Dr. Jensen and Dr. Peets work with local agents who inform the public of the clinic and schedule appointments for them. However, a lot of Belizeans do not have a land line let alone a cell phone, so they show up at the clinic hoping to get it. While at the clinic, the doctors usually see around 110 patients.

“Bob and I do this on our own. It’s purely for the benefit of the poor people down there,” Dr. Jensen said.

Dr. Jensen’s favorite part of the opportunity of the mission experience is helping people see.

“The day after surgery when someone goes from blind to seeing,” Dr. Jensen said. “When they have to be led in by their family and they have a cane, and then the next day they bring their cane, but they are swinging their cane when they walk and they’re not using it.”

He said it’s not just him making a difference, but the whole team working together is what makes this a reality.

Experiences like this one is the whole reason Dr. Jensen decided pursue a career in eye surgery. He can recall when he was doing a rotation in eye surgery and one of the patients who had surgery got to see her grandchildren for the first time. It was so impactful on him he decided that’s what he wanted to pursue as a career. He said this type of situation happens a lot in Belize.

“From seeing nothing to seeing something, is a huge step for them,” Dr. Jensen said. “That’s what really makes it worth it.”

Dr. Jensen and the team were excited to see the new building they were provided through a grant from the Osteopathic College of Ophthalmology Foundation. Now that they have a place to store their equipment, the team would like to try and return to Belize twice a year and the next trip is already being planned to take place in March of 2024.

Dr. Jensen wanted to thank all of those who helped make the mission trips a success through donations and other support including, Alcon Pharmaceuticals, Rock Springs IV Center, Carl Zeiss Meditec, Inc., Kettering Health Network, Samaritan North Medical Center, Memorial Hospital of Sweetwater County, Soin Medical Center, and the Sweetwater Surgery Center.